What Should You Do? Trying To Get Into A Closed Course

One of the biggest bummers at the start of the semester is realizing that you need a course, but finding out that the course is closed. You might think that if you need the course, you will find someone (Dean, Professor, Advisor) who will simply let you into the course (i.e., give you an override). However, as the expression goes Think Again! It is not a lost cause when you need a closed course, but getting an override into the course will require a certain way of approaching your dilemma.

Here are some pieces of advice:

1) Keep in mind that in most cases the only person who can let you into a class is the faculty member teaching the course. That means, at some point you are going to have to have some communication with this person. It is very rare that the faculty member will let you in to a closed course simply based on the recommendation of another person (e.g., an Advisor). For the rest of this post I will assume a faculty member must give an override into a class, but it may be another person (e.g., chairperson, advisor) who makes this decision.

override1-university-105709_12802) I feel that you should talk to a faculty member in person. Contacting them initially via email is OK, but for something like this I feel a face-to-face meeting will work to your advantage. For one thing, I believe a faculty member will be more impressed with your desire to get into the course when you show up in person to talk compared to reading an email from you. I’ll be honest, in my close to 30 years of teaching it is doubtful I ever gave or would give an override to a student I did not talk to in person.

3) Be persistent. Getting an override for a course can be hard work that takes some time. Don’t try once and then just give up. In my view, you should try several times. You need to realize that ultimately you may not be successful, but I feel that if you really want the course you need to keep going for it.

4) Have clear in your mind why you need the course. This is critical for when you talk to the person teaching the course. Don’t just say to the faculty member that you need the course to graduate. Lay out in a very systematic manner why you need this particular course at this particular time. For example, maybe you need the course right now because your plan to graduate does not allow you to take this course during a later semester. Or, you need the course now because it serves as a pre-requisite for other courses that you need to graduate on time.

There are two quick things to keep in mind when you talk about why you need to take the course. First, needing to take a course immediately versus needing to take the course at some point in your college career are of course two very different things. Be prepared to answer why you need the course right now. If you do not have a good answer to why you need to let into the course right the Instructor may not be swayed to give you an override. They will simply say you can take the course later. Second, a faculty member may ask you why you did not pre-register for the course. Again, you need to have a good answer. Just saying you forgot or were not really sure you needed the course are sure ways to have a faculty member say no to your request.

override-school-book-1560339_12805) Be civil. The worst thing you can do is to approach your discussion with a faculty member in a combative manner. If a student did this with me I would tell them to come back when they have calmed down or simply deny the request for an override on the spot. Before you talk to a faculty member it is important to calm down and be prepared to talk about your request in a mature manner. Getting angry will not help your cause at all.

6) Don’t beg. In my opinion, having talked to hundreds of students needing an override, I do not feel any student should be begging (cajoling or whatever you want to call it) to get into a class. You need to approach your situation in a mature manner and be prepared for the outcome—good or bad. I just do not see any place for begging, and quite frankly I can see it work against you in most situations.

My hope is that all of the advice I have just given you will get you the override you want. However, if there is just no way to get a faculty member to budge, keep in mind that you might need to (a) take another course at your school, (b) consider taking a summer course (c) try to take the course at another school (including online), (d) find out if there is any way to have another course substitute for the course you want, (e) keep checking to see if a slot opens up for the course—during the first week of the semester there is usually a drop-add period and someone may simply drop the course, leaving a slot open for you, and (f) put your name on a wait list if your school uses one. With regard to the wait list, that can work. However, I feel you should still see the person teaching the course regardless of whether you are on the wait list.

As always, good luck as you continue to navigate the ins and outs of college life!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Dropping a Course: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the toughest decisions you might have to face in college is whether to drop a course or not. The fact that you have this choice makes clear that college is a time when you have a lot more say over your education than in the past (e.g.., you can’t just drop courses in high school). However, it also shows that as you go through colleges there seem to be more and more decisions you need to make.

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Why would consider dropping a course? Believe it or not there are many possible reasons for dropping a course and they really range quite a bit in the circumstances surrounding the course you are in:

          You don’t like the Instructor 
          You feel the course is not meeting your expectations (e.g., too hard)
          You are not doing well in the course
          You are spending too much time on this course
          You are feeling stressed and anxious because of the course
          You have had significant life changes and can’t spend time on the course

Regardless of the reason, I feel it is very important that ultimately it is you who takes the responsibility for making the decision about dropping or not. Sure you should talk to others about your situation—an advisor, friends, family members, and/or the Instructor–but in the end you must be the person who decides to stay or go. Also, do not think that if you drop the course that it indicates some weakness on your part. To the contrary, this decision is a sign of strength, that you realized something was wrong and you took steps to deal with the situation and move forward with your college career.

As you consider your decision, here are a number of critical questions to think about:

1) If you drop the course, can you take it later? When you take a course you typically need it to fulfill some requirement. But, dropping a course does not mean you cannot take it another semester. If you need the course, check with your advisor and see when it will be offered again. It is likely that the course will be offered soon and you can retake the course with a better outcome.

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2) Should you just hang in there and hope that things will get better? In some cases this might be a worthwhile strategy. Perhaps you had a something relatively minor come up that set you back and you can overcome this “hiccup in the road” with renewed effort. However, this can be a risky strategy and all the work in the world may not overcome certain factors that indicate you should drop. For example, if you feel that you do not mesh with the Instructor’s teaching style it is probably best to drop and move on. It is unlikely the Instructor is going to change their style to suit you any time soon.

3) What are the financial implications of dropping the course? Now this gets a little more complicated because there are two issues to keep in mind: tuition costs and financial aid

a) Tuition costs. Most colleges have you pay tuition for a range of full-time credit hours. For example, you pay the same amount for taking 12-15 credit hours. Therefore, if you are taking 15 credit hours and you drop a 3 credit hour course, your tuition payment will not be affected. In this case, dropping a course is not going to set you or your parents back any money.

 b) Financial aid. For certain types of financial aid you must be taking a certain number of credit hours. Thus, if you drop a course you might fall below the threshold and potentially lose your financial aid—not good! For other types of financial aid, dropping a course is tied to financial aid dates. These dates indicate what percentage of financial aid you will lose—dropping early in the semester penalizes you less than dropping later in the semester.

4) Will your transcript reflect dropping a course? Maybe—it all depends on dates again. Whether you know it or not, there is an academic calendar at every college that indicates the deadlines for when certain things must get done, including dropping courses. For example, colleges allow you a short grace period at the start of each semester (typically a few days or a week) where you are allowed to drop a course and that course will not even appear on your transcript. However, as the semester moves on the “penalty” for dropping gets a bit tougher. This may include a grade of “W” (for withdraw) appearing on your transcript. Ultimately, there is a date where you basically cannot drop a course (and must accept the grade you are going to get) unless you have extenuating circumstances (e.g., an extended illness). The bottom line is to know your drop dates!

5) Does having a “W” on my transcript hurt my chances to be accepted to graduate or professional school or to get a job offer? Again, it depends. A student may worry that a “W” grade on a transcript will indicate to others that they were lazy or not able to deal with difficult material. However, it is typically the case that a “W” on a transcript does not give any indication for why a student dropped a particular course. Thus, a faculty member could infer something negative about a student who has a “W”, but it would be an inference with no actual evidence. Let me add this to hopefully make you feel better–in my 28 years as a professor, sitting on admissions committees every year, I never heard a colleague suggest not accepting a student because they had a “W” grade.

As you can see, dropping a course is not a very simple process. It requires a lot of thinking and ultimately a difficult decision on your part. However, with the help of others (especially your advisor) I am confident you will make the right choice.

What Should You Do?: Missing an Exam Because You Overslept

The other day, I gave an exam to a large class. When it ended, I went back to my office to get the exam ready to be graded. After a few minutes, there was a knock at my door; I opened it and saw a young woman in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she told me that she had slept through her alarm and missed the exam.

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I’d like to offer some thoughts about situations like this. First, your syllabus likely doesn’t mention oversleeping. The syllabus probably only describes the times when you miss an exam because of an excused absence. Excused absences generally include documented illnesses, university-approved events, and death in one’s immediate family. Clearly, oversleeping is not an excused absence.

Second, faculty members are put in a very difficult position when a student oversleeps and misses an exam. On the one hand, the syllabus doesn’t call for a make-up, other students managed to get to the exam, and you have rested more than anyone else who took the exam. On the other hand, mistakes happen and having a little more sleep probably doesn’t amount to a significant advantage.

Third, you need to live with the consequences of your actions. You may think that sleeping through the exam isn’t such a big deal, but a faculty member may see it as a really big deal. They might give you a 0 on the exam or have you take the exam with a penalty (e.g., losing 10 points right off the top). Alternatively, they might simply have you take the exam right there on the spot and not penalize you at all.

I hope that you’ll never have to deal with this on exam day. Exams lead to enough stress on their own. You don’t need any more. If you think you might oversleep because the exam is in an early class, or because you stayed up studying longer than normal, then set more than one alarm or have a friend either call you or knock on your door so you don’t stay asleep.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I let the woman at the beginning of my blog take the exam with no penalty.

 

Special Guest Writer-Casey Magyarics (graduate student): Writing an Email to Your Instructor

Writing an email might sound like an easy thing to do, especially since we all spend so much time writing text messages, but writing an email to a professor or TA is very different from writing a text message. When you’re writing an email to a professor, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

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1. State your name and what class you’re taking. Your professors likely teach more than one course and they can’t keep track of everyone. If you tell your professors who you are and what class you’re taking with them, you’ll probably get a much better response.

2. Clearly explain your issue or question. Don’t just say that you need help with an assignment, be specific about the question you have. Make sure you have looked at the syllabus or assignment guidelines clearly before asking your professor or TA for help.

3. Be respectful! This is very simple, but it can really help you out. Everyone is busy, so if you are appreciative of your instructor’s time, they are probably going to be more willing to answer take care of your concern/question thoroughly.

4. Use professional language and grammar. This is where writing an email to a professor and text messaging are very different. You will want to use proper grammar and sentence structure. Don’t use things like jk, lol, !!!???, or emojis.

5. Don’t act like your instructor owes you anything. Your instructor may not be willing to provide students with their presentations or notes, so it’s important that you not act like you’re entitled to these privileges. Same thing goes for extensions on assignments, etc.

These 5 pieces of advice can really help you create a positive relationship with your instructor through email. Remember that you might need to contact these people when it comes to bumping your grade up from a B to an A at the end of the semester or when you need a recommendation letter for a scholarship or grad school. Plus, it’s always nice to treat your instructors with the same respect that you expect from them.