The End of Shopping Week

During their last regular meeting of the academic year, on May 3, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted by a 3:2 margin to replace the “shopping” period—the beginning-of-term week in which students sample courses before making their selections—with a system of previous-term registration.

Formal discussion of the proposal had occupied a substantial portion of two prior meetings (see harvardmag.com/shopping-undergrad-22); the work to develop a replacement stretched back even further, to 2019. Although shopping week created administrative headaches, uncertainties for graduate students, and left some undergraduates scrambling at the last minute for courses whose section meeting times would fit their schedules, 96 percent of students in the College reportedly wished to retain it. During the faculty deliberations, more than a few professors who had attended Harvard as undergraduates also spoke in favor of the existing system. Several cited the importance of shopping to changing the direction of their subsequent careers.

Pierce professor of psychology Daniel Gilbert, arguing against such sampling, noted that people are happiest when their decisions are informed by the prior experiences of others, rather than their own impressions. He advocated use of the Q guide class summaries written by former students as a better model of course selection. Goelet professor of French history Mary Lewis suggested that faculty members who had attended the College and supported “shopping” were suffering from “confirmation bias.”

By and large, however, the faculty assessed the proposed change on the merits: one of the principal objections to “shopping” is the delay it imposes on getting classes into full swing, in a 12-week semester (a calendar reform adopted in 2004), that squeezes exams in before the December holiday break. The new system will take effect in the fall of 2023, when students register for spring 2024 classes; final details about the mechanics of liberalized course drop/add rules, enhanced advising, and more, were deferred to an implementation committee. For a full report, see harvardmag.com/shop-denouement-22

Read more articles by Jonathan Shaw

You might also like

“Edifying and Beautiful”

Botanical illustrations on display at Harvard’s rare book library

Sarah Ganz Blythe New Art Museums Director

Assumes Harvard post in August

Taking Climate Action at Harvard

Focusing on prime polluting industries, plus politics and policy

Most popular

Lord Mayor for a Day

Harvard's Michael Mainelli, the 695th Lord Mayor of London.

Heads of the Parade

And a precedent-setting eightieth Harvard reunion

Parks for Tomorrow

Bas Smets harnesses nature to cool cities.

More to explore

Architect Kimberly Dowell is Changing Her Profession

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

Harvard Professor on Printmaking

An art historian analyzes an overlooked medium.

Dream Renovations to Harvard Yard Libraries

An ambitious plan for the next century of learning