With the spring semester underway here at F&ES, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on one of Yale’s more unique practices – the “shopping period”. At the start of each new semester, Yale students are given two weeks to “shop” courses – that is, to visit as many courses as they’d like before officially registering.

As someone who thrives on lists and calendars, I’ll admit it – I was a bit skeptical at first. Arriving on campus without knowing what classes I would be taking was unsettling to say the least. After two years of law school, I was used to registering for courses weeks (if not months) before each new semester. Following that tradition, I had largely chosen my courses before arriving on campus after MODs, and took little advantage of my first shopping period.

Only now, with my second shopping period coming to an end, have I come to appreciate the brilliance behind the shopping period. With so many courses offered (and so little time!), I wanted to be sure to take the classes that best fit my interests. Often a class description or a syllabus just isn’t enough. Sitting in on a class or two shows you where the course is going, and perhaps even more importantly, allows you to get to know the Professor – his or her background, interests, and teaching style. In addition, in order to keep classes small and discussion-friendly, many courses are capped at around fifteen students. These classes may require an application. Shopping period allows you to apply to these classes while still exploring alternatives.

Sure the shopping period comes with a handful of headaches: You might be attending twice the number of courses you’ll actually take for the first week or so. Many Professors don’t want to waste two weeks of valuable class time so they get into the material right away and expect students to do the same. That can mean twice the reading and work, as well. However, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

For me, what once seemed like an perplexing inconvenience has become a great gift – a unique tool to create the schedule that best fits my interests and goals so that I can get the most out of my short time at F&ES.