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January marks the beginning of a new semester filled with new classes. While course enrolment for both fall and winter terms occurred in the summer, students have until the end of the drop-and-add period on Jan. 15 to enrol in courses for the current term. Or, at least, they can attempt to.

McMaster University students enrol in courses through Mosaic, the university’s administrative information system. For fall and winter course enrolment, students may only enrol in courses after their enrolment appointment opens, which is dependent on their academic level. For example, during registration for the 2018-2019 academic term, students in level five had enrolment appointments beginning June 19 whereas students in level one had appointments beginning June 27.

Each student is randomly assigned an enrolment appointment within their academic level which allows the process of course enrolment to be fair while giving necessary priority to upper-year students who have limited time to fulfil their degree requirements.

While the current system provides students equal opportunity to enrol in courses, due to the nature of course enrolment, it is often the case that students wish to enrol in classes that have reached capacity. This could be to fulfil requirements for post-undergraduate programs, satisfy their minor requirements, allow for the option to take advanced classes in the future, or merely out of interest.

Just as there are many reasons why students wish to enrol in full classes, there are many reasons why classes have caps on enrolment — limitations in room sizes and the necessity of reserved space for certain program majors, for example — but what makes little sense is the university’s lack of offering a waitlist for full classes.

As it stands, any students wishing to enrol in full classes is recommended to “keep checking back on Mosaic to see if a seat has opened up”. This recommendation is frankly a waste of students’ time with little reward; students have no guarantee that consistently checking their enrolment cart will result in enrolment in their desired course, even if spaces became available.

The alternative is to contact the instructor of the course and ask for special permissions to join however this again cannot guarantee student enrolment and success varies dependent on the course and instructor. Instructors also cannot be expected to respond to all student requests and essentially manage the administrative details of their course. Instead, waitlists should be created and used to facilitate course enrolment.

Other universities such as Carleton University have clearly-defined policies surrounding course registration waitlists. While not all courses at Carleton have waitlists set-up, those that do operate in a consistent manner.

Once the course has reached capacity, students who have met the course prerequisites and are attempting to enrol are presented with the option to join a waitlist, with those who attempted to enrol in the full course the earliest placed at the top of the list. When space is available, the first student on the waitlist is notified via email and must register for the class within 24 hours. Otherwise, the next student on the waitlist is contacted and so forth.   

Although a system like this does not guarantee enrolment, it removes the unnecessary time commitment created by constantly checking Mosaic for available spaces, and ensures the process is fair by not requiring instructor intervention.

Oddly enough, Mosaic appears to have the functionality to support waitlists, showing students on their term’s schedule that their status in a course can be “enrolled”, “dropped”, or “wait listed”. Given then that implementation of waitlists benefits students and does not seemingly require a major system restructure, the question becomes why hasn’t the university offered it?


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