Kashish Bastola ’26 has never experienced a “shopping week.” So, like many students, he decided to make his own.
“It’s been rough,” said Bastola, who attended nine courses since classes began. “I spent way too much time inside of a classroom last week.”
Following years of fierce and public debate, Harvard faculty voted in May 2022 to eliminate shopping week, a now-defunct period at the beginning of each semester where Harvard College students could sample classes without having to formally enroll in them.
Harvard instituted course pre-registration for the first time in fall 2020 after the pandemic caused the school to move its classes online, opting for a modified shopping period where faculty posted trailers to course websites prior to the start of the term.
Shopping week’s permanent replacement, a previous-term course registration system, will require students to enroll in courses at the end of the previous term. The new system goes into effect for the spring 2024 semester.
Still, some students have found a workaround by enrolling in or attending several classes before settling on a schedule.
Sarah E. Burn ’23-24, who experienced shopping week as a freshman in 2019, said she now enrolls in six classes and attends classes she is not enrolled in before finalizing her schedule.
“It’s just about finding things maybe you didn’t find by yourself sitting online during winter break surfing my.Harvard,” she said.
Diana S. Shaari ’24 said she feels many students are doing something similar.
“I’ve talked to a bunch of people, at least the first week of classes, who, even if it wasn’t on their Crimson Cart, would go to ten different classes and just see,” Shaari said.
Still, some say a “Do-It-Yourself” shopping strategy is not a perfect replacement for the formal shopping week model.
“The fact that we don’t have shopping week anymore implies that if you change your classes you get behind,” Julia Santos de Alvarenga ’26 said. “So you have to catch up, and that’s the bad side of doing shopping week by your own.”
Opponents of shopping week had long argued that the uncertainty over the number of students enrolled in a class posed serious logistical problems that especially impacted graduate students who serve as teaching fellows for those courses.
Supporters, however, said that shopping week was an important part of the Harvard undergraduate experience and helped advance the school’s commitment to the liberal arts.
Sasha Agarwal ’25, an inactive Crimson Editorial editor, said she has been attending seven classes — of which she is enrolled in five — in an effort to determine which courses would best suit her double concentration in Economics and Statistics.
“This week’s been a little bit of a rough week because I have got six, seven psets to do,” Agarwal said. “It would have been nice to maybe have shopping week.”
Nevertheless, she said her past experience working as a course assistant helps her understand the logistical challenge shopping week poses for hiring course staff.
“It’s probably hard to figure out exactly how many members of supportive teaching staff you need, or TFs and CAs, stuff like that,” Agarwal said. “So I can completely understand that rationale.”
Julie A. Buckler, a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, said enrollment in her course Slavic 132: “Russia’s Golden Age: Literature, Arts, and Culture” appears to “fluctuate every day.” Since the start of classes, according to Buckler, enrollment in the course rose 30 percent.
She called the College’s course preview period a “reasonable compromise.”
“Before we had course pre-registration, you would prepare a course and have absolutely no idea how many students would take it. And you know, this is brutal for faculty,” Buckler said, citing the difficulty it posed to graduate TFs as well.
“This just feels more balanced on both sides,” she added.
Considering the extensive array of Harvard’s academic offerings, Bastola said, it was hard to choose just a small handful.
“There’s just so many cool classes at this school, and I want to make sure that I’m giving each of them a fair chance,” Bastola said.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.