For future students: How to ask to be let into a course

One of my best things is not taking things personally.

Almost nothing has anything to do with me.

–Robert Lopez, A Part of the World


Unlike Robert Lopez’s narrator,  “not taking things personally” is one of my worst things.  I tend to take things personally.  On the one hand, this can add some stress and paranoia to office politics; on the other, it also is a way of ensuring I’m engaged fully with a particular situation.


This week’s instance of “things I shouldn’t take personally, but do” comes courtesy of students who want me to admit them into my full sections of the British literature survey.  (These are students I’ve not met before.  Students I already know rarely present the same problem.)  I have received four different messages since Thursday, all a single sentence, and usually without a salutation or even a signature: “will you let me into your closed course (crn xxxxx)?”


Now, these students are good at one aspect of e-mail etiquette: The action item in the e-mail is quite clear.  (“Let me into your class!!!”)  And, at the margins, an additional student or 2 in a 200-level class isn’t going to kill me.


Here’s the thing: The students *are* asking a favor.  And it’s not a cost-free favor, either.  There’s the additional administrative responsibility (keeping up with the student’s attendance, etc.), the extra grading (goes without saying), and all the other stuff that goes into having a body in the class.  Beyond this, adding students beyond the enrollment caps irritates the departmental Powers-That-Be, because it implies that the courses could be bigger.  (In fact, our survey courses are capped at the stupidest number imaginable, 30.  30 is too big for a proper discussion-based or writing-based class, and too small to achieve any of the potential economies of a bigger class.)


So, please: Help me want to incur these costs.  First, tell me why you’re looking for this course so late?  Did you fail Brit Lit II in the spring, and again in the summer, and really need it again now?  Are you a transfer student?  A new admit?  These courses were open for months . . . why did this just occur to you?


Then, give me a reason, a real reason, why I should let you in.  Don’t ramble on for a paragraph about how you really love literature or something, or tell me you read my rating and feel a spiritual connection.  But explain to me why you need this particular gen ed requirement fulfilled this particular semester.  There are *always* sections of Brit Lit II.  Why this one?


For me, a good example of a real reason is that you’re in either a supermajor or an incredibly scripted major, and if you miss getting the gen ed done now, you’re in trouble down the road.  Or, maybe you’re a transfer student, looking to major in English, and you need to get cracking on the surveys.


If your reason is “conflict with your job,” then that’s a less-real reason.  Not because your job’s not important–believe me, I know that it is–but because that’s just bad planning.  If your job’s *so* important, then you should’ve registered for the class earlier.  Or, take the course in the spring, and give your boss lots of notice so you can move your schedule around.


It should be possible to let me know in just a sentence or two that you’ve thought about your schedule and about your audience for the e-mail.


Finally, if you do get into the class, make sure you follow up!  If I’ve let you into a full class, then I know your name, and I know that I’ve done you a favor.  As a result, I expect you to be a good citizen–to come prepared to talk, to have your book, to participate in the online assignments, etc.  It’s not reasonable to expect both to be admitted into a full class *and* to recede quietly into the background of that class.








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3 Responses to For future students: How to ask to be let into a course

  1. Frothy McBaldman says:

    Because I am a bastard, I have cultivated a studied indifference to even the most detailed, impassioned pleas (I really wish I could manage the same disinterest in other arenas). Some sympathetic synapse fails to fire, probably because I imagine that those students that didn’t plan ahead well enough to secure my course for their schedules are exactly the sorts of students I don’t want to have in my class. If I’m going to design a course that affords students considerable latitude and depends on their foresight and initiative, the last thing I want to do is make room for someone who’s improvising on the fly. That surely says more about me than it does about them, but it keeps me content in the classroom.

  2. jbj says:

    It’s not so much that I want “impassioned pleas”–students shouldn’t beg! Rather, I’m looking for some self-awareness about the situation. Why is it that you’re in this particular situation?

    You’re right: If the student’s just improvising, then that doesn’t bode well for their performance in the class. But some of our students, especially transfer students, aren’t being reckless or improvident.

  3. Frothy McBaldman says:

    Truth be told, I’d be pleased if the writing I received in class was half as imaginative as the messages from students that want to wheedle their way in to a course. I’m new to this curriculum, and even I can discern when they’re just trying to snow me.

    I seldom get the one-liners, however, so I suspect the requests I receive just come from the more ardent end of the spectrum by default. We have few transfer students, and I reckon that only about 1/6th of the requests I receive are motivated by real exigency (that a little foresight might have remedied). The other five just come from folks who want an afternoon class or fear some other prof more than they fear me.

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