How (Not) to Crash a College Class

Where did all the students go?

Beautiful U.C. Sunnydale… Just Kidding.

I’ve been a college professor for fourteen years now.  In that time, I’ve seen some pretty silly behavior.  It is not, for example, all that unusual for students (usually women) to show up for an early class in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, toting a large cup of coffee.  Then there’s the dude who spent every class break sipping Red Bull, smoking cigarettes, and taking puffs off an asthma inhaler.  Or the guy who left my class in a huff (and never came back) because we read an article explaining why herbal detox products are a scam.

All of which (except maybe the Red Bull and cigarettes) is fairly harmless.  But some of the things that students do in first few days of class, especially when it comes to crashing classes, can cause serious aggravation for professors, not to mention other students.

So here, for your benefit, is a list of Things You Shouldn’t Do When Crashing Classes.

Rule #1:  Don’t Lurk.

In professor-speak, a lurker is someone who has been told that a class is full, that there is a long waiting list, that they have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a spot and that they should go look for open sections, but who takes a seat in the classroom anyway.  The logic of the lurker seems to be that if they take a seat, they must be in the class, right?  Wrong.  There are often more chairs in a classroom than there are spots for students (this is due to state and contractual limits on class size), and in any case, only the professor can add a student.  All the lurker is doing with this strategy is throwing off the attendance count.

(Incidentally, you should never ask a professor to enroll you over the maximum number of students.  While it may be just as easy to lecture to thirty-one people as it is to lecture to thirty, you are asking the professor to grade your work without compensation.  This is like your boss asking you to work a couple extra hours without pay.  Not cool.  Also, you are asking the professor to betray all his unemployed professor friends who just might get some work if new sections are opened to accommodate student overflow.)

There is also a more sophisticated species of lurker who will introduce themselves to the professor and ask politely if they can ‘sit in’ on the class just in case a space becomes available. Less experienced professors will allow this type of lurker to remain, usually after a stern lecture about their slim chances of getting a spot.  This kind of lurker will attend class scrupulously, participate in discussions, and even do homework, all in an effort to impress the professor.  The problem comes at the end of the add period when no spaces have opened up and the lurker is asked to leave.  Having invested all that time and effort, this type of lurker is often reluctant to go.  Professors that I know have had to call the campus police to eject disgruntled lurkers from their classrooms.  So don’t put yourself in that situation.  Don’t lurk.

Rule #2:  Don’t Shop.

A shopper is a student who goes around collecting add codes for multiple sections of the same class or multiple classes that fulfill the same requirement.  Having done this, the shopper decides which class they will ‘keep’ based on which one requires the least work or which professor seems friendliest.  This is all very well for the shopper, but creates problems in the various classes they visited.  Let’s say the shopper visited six sections of a class and obtained four add codes before deciding on the section they wanted.  That leaves three professors who think they have a student but don’t, three professors who will probably hold a spot open on the (incorrect) assumption that the shopper will return.  What that really means is three other students who don’t get a class because some greedy shopper wanted an easy grade.

Moral issues aside, things don’t always go smoothly for shoppers.  It often takes them a few days of shopping around to decide on a class section.  That means that they’ve taken an add code but have vanished from class without using it.  Savvy professors recognize this sort of behavior and assume that the shopper will probably not be coming back.  When the shopper finally does pick a section, they may return to find it already filled by legitimate crashers.  Shoppers who wait too long are in no position to be picky, and often wind up with their second or third choice class, which, given their habits, can set off a domino effect of scrambling to get other classes that fit their new and unexpected schedule.  So don’t shop.  The schedule you save may be your own.

Rule #3:  You are Not a Lawyer.

Inevitably, there are always a few students who enroll in a class and then get dropped from it before the class ever meets.  There are a couple of standard reasons for this.  In my experience, most students who get dropped before opening day didn’t pay their tuition fees on time.  In the second most popular scenario, a student enrolls in the next class in a series on the assumption that they will pass the one they are in now.  When they don’t, the enrollment system automatically drops them from the new class, which they are no longer eligible to take.  Usually, this type of student presents no problem.  Recognizing that they have been legitimately dropped, they will pay their fees or pick a more appropriate class and go about their business like regular crashers.

(The matter is complicated by the fact that sometimes people get dropped during the enrollment period for no damn reason at all.  Last year, due to a clerical error, this happened to literally hundreds of students at my school.  If you really have been dropped from a class in error, a phone call or quick e-mail from your admissions office to the professor goes a long way.)

I will occasionally get students (usually first time freshman) who honestly don’t understand why they have been dropped, or even that they have been dropped.  I don’t mind explaining things to these students, and they usually take it pretty well.  Sometimes, however, people try to argue.  The lawyer student will show up for opening day, usually with a piece of paper showing that they were, at some point, enrolled in the class.  When it becomes clear that they are no longer on the roster, the lawyer student will charge up to the front desk, waving their piece of paper, and demand to be reinstated immediately

The lawyers student is operating under the assumption that because they were in a class at one time that this entitles them to jump the line ahead of wait-listed students and other crashers.  This is simply not true.  If you have been dropped during the enrollment period for non-payment or any other legitimate reason, you have no more right to add a class than any other crasher.  So do yourself and your fellow students a favor, and don’t start an argument you’re not going to win.

And there you have it.  Three Things You Shouldn’t Do When Crashing Classes.

If you’re an incoming freshman, a first time college student in other words, bear in mind that you are the low man on the enrollment priority totem pole.  Be prepared to take whatever classes you can get and stick with them through the end.  If you can manage that for a couple of semesters, you’ll be top dog soon enough.

Dave Hurwitz

Still no students.  Where have they gone?

Maybe it’s Miskatonic University… Never Mind.

2 Responses to “How (Not) to Crash a College Class”

  1. Hi. my name is Hanna. I am an international student and i’m about to begin my first year in a college but i was a little late enrolling in a class and i cant enroll in another class in my series because i have to complete this one first, i was told that my best chances of getting in would be to crash the class but after reading your article i think you would be best to let me know how to go about “crashing the class” or what to do. i would very much appreciate it if you could help me.

    • Hello, Hanna. I’m happy to help.

      First off, the best thing that you can do is get on a waiting list for this class that you need. This is a list of students who will have priority if a seat becomes available in a class that is already full. The same system that you use to enroll in classes should also handle waiting lists. Generally speaking, you can only wait-list one section of a course, so pick the class that fits your schedule best. Show up to the first day of class and hope that there’s an open spot for you.

      Of course, being on a waiting list is no guarantee of getting in. Just in case you don’t, here’s some general advice on crashing:

      Get a list of open sections. Most departments that offer classes will have lists of sections that are still open, sometimes in the department office, sometimes at special ‘Crash Tables’ set up outside. Tell the person manning the desk what class you need, and they will tell you which sections are open. Write down the room numbers and times of any open sections that don’t conflict with your other classes. Don’t be picky and only try to crash the most convenient class. That’s a good way to wind up with no class at all. Find the section that begins first, go to that class and ask the professor if he or she is accepting crashers. Be prepared for rejection. You will probably have to visit three or four classes before you find an open spot.

      Generally, early morning and late afternoon sections are less popular, so you have a greater chance of getting into these.

      If you do all this and still can’t get a class, keep bugging people. Specifically, tell the people in the relevant department office that you still need this class. If enough people say this, they may create a brand new class.

      And there you have it, Hanna, my best advice on how to crash a college class. I hope you find that helpful. Good luck, and good learning.

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