Registration hell

How to get the classes you need even if they’re ‘full’

Photo By Tom Angel

One of the first things any college student learns is that attending classes is one of the easier things involved in getting an education. Getting into the classes you need is often the hard part, especially now that the state budget is putting the squeeze on college enrollment.

Ask any old-time alum about it, and you will be regaled with stories about standing in mile-long lines with armfuls of add cards or sneaking into the gym to sweet-talk student workers into putting one’s name onto the rolls. Even students at Plato’s Academy probably had a tough time getting into the really good classes.

So, historically speaking, the registration process at Chico State isn’t that bad. But try telling that to students who have worked their butts off for three or more years trying to get a diploma only to find that they have to postpone their graduation because the system won’t let them into their required classes.

It happened to Hannah Tye, a junior in Chico State’s Nutrition Science program. Tye had to take an entire year off from the program because she couldn’t get into her required classes. During that time, she lost her financial aid, put her career plans on hold and had to readjust her life totally.

“It’s stressful. I planned to go that semester, and taking a year off—I mean, it’s scary because you don’t know how much it has set you back or what you’re going to do instead. I don’t like taking time off school, and it wasn’t my choice.”

Tye’s situation may fall on the extreme side, but school administrators admit that, while they try to get everyone the classes they need, the process is far from perfect. Switching from the hated “TRACS” phone registration system to a Web-based model has helped a lot, they say. (TRACS will still be used as a backup system while the geeks fix bugs in the new Portal system—see sidebar.) But what really gets you in is persistence, flexibility and (if there is such a thing) finaglastity—you know, the ability to finagle.

“Persistence pays off,” Assistant Registrar Kathy Hyatt said. “Students are adding and dropping classes constantly, so it pays to keep trying. We tell students that, if they’re unable to get in a class, go the first day and try to add.”

Adding a class this way can be frustrating, because it is basically up to the instructor to decide who can add. Because there is only so much room in a given classroom and often many students on a waiting list, some instructors try to randomize the process by pulling names out of a hat or drawing straws. Others give preference based on need, grade level or some other factor. A good sob story can help here, but remember, professors are generally pretty smart, so try not to lay it on too thick.

“When there are 30 people trying to get into a class and only two seats available, faculty members have to do their best to determine what’s fair,” Hyatt said. Instructors have the right to kick freshmen out of a class—even if they were among the first enrolled—if there are upperclassmen who need the class in order to graduate. While it may not seem fair to the freshmen at the time, Hyatt added, they probably won’t be complaining in a few years when the tide turns their way.

If adding doesn’t work, you can always go see the department adviser. Sometimes the differences in any two classes are so slight that the adviser can substitute one for another. It’s never a bad idea to get to know your adviser anyway, as he or she can often give you inside tips on which classes are likely to open up, which professors are likely to add, and which courses will count for more than one requirement.

One additional strategy to getting classes is to try to find ones that are scheduled for times that nobody wants to be in class. Morning and evening classes are usually the last to fill up.

Photo By Tom Angel

Associated Students President Michael Dailey said he hasn’t received a lot of complaints about students not getting classes. But he knows there’s a problem with it, because it’s happening to him this semester. A communications major who is also trying for a minor in business, Dailey said that some departments are better than others about managing enrollment.

“One of the things the Communications Department does is go to the students and say, ‘What classes do you need to graduate?'” Dailey said. The department then tailors its class list to meet those needs, a strategy that Dailey thinks should be taken up by all the campus’ departments.

“We want [the departments] to be wise, so we’re not spending money on classes that only three people need when there are 20 people waiting for other classes. This is something we will actually be working with the administration to try to implement.”

Dailey encourages students who have registration problems to let the A.S. know about it so it can take those concerns up with the school. With the state cutting payments to colleges, he may end up hearing from a lot of people. Hyatt says the registration situation is bound to get worse before it gets better.

“I’ve been here 23 years, and I’ve seen some budgets that have been bad, but they don’t even come close to what is happening right now. It’s really scary, and next year looks like it might be even worse.”

The state Chancellor’s Office recently raised tuition and asked colleges to slow down enrollment for next year, a possible precursor to class de-listing. With Chico State’s enrollment close to 15,000, the school is already impacted and may have to turn down new students next fall. Already, six of the 23 CSU campuses have stopped admitting new students for spring, and other campuses, including Chico, may follow their lead.

So if you’re worried about getting classes, think about it this way—at least you got into school and made it this far. With a bit of patience, a little flexibility and a whole lot finaglin', you’re sure to make it out all right.

Don’t panic
If all else fails, get some help

• Aside from finals and midterms, class registration is probably the most stressful time of any student’s academic life. Here are some ways to make it easier.

• Use the new technology. More than 80 percent of new students used the Web-based Portal system to sign up for classes this fall, and most of them seem to like it. For those poor souls still using the phone-based TRACS system, give the Portal a try at If it doesn’t work, you may be behind a firewall or have an incompatible browser. If that’s the case, use one of the computers at the Meriam Library computer lab or call 898-6400 for advice. If you really like TRACS (have you sought counseling?), don’t fret—it’ll still be around as a backup system for a couple of years.

• If you need a certain number of units for financial aid, register for alternate classes just in case, then try to add the ones you actually need. Don’t forget to drop the classes you’re not attending.

• E-mail the instructors of the classes you intend to add ahead of time, explaining your situation and why you deserve to be in the class. It may not matter in the end, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

• Make sure you don’t have any registration holds and are signed up at your actual grade level. Upperclassmen are given priority in deciding who gets into classes. For help in these areas call the registration help line at 898-6400.

• Make friends with your major adviser. Sometimes he or she can save you countless hours of aggravation.