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What to Do When You're on Community College Class Waiting Lists

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Scheduling classes can be stressful, especially when you can't get into the ones you need. However, before you get frustrated and give up, consider these tips on what to do when you get waitlisted.

Stay Calm

Your course plan is set, and you know which classes you're taking each semester. Then, you find out some of your classes are already filled. Your whole plan is ruined, and you begin to panic thinking you won't be able to graduate on time. What do you do?

First, remain calm. Waitlisting is an unavoidable part of course enrollment, especially for general courses that all students need. The worst thing you can possibly do is stress out and start sending emails to professors in a frantic state. Just take a few minutes to consider your options before making any rash decisions or changes to your course plan.

Look Up Your School's Policy

Your college probably has a web page dedicated to answering questions about waitlisting. For example, check out Coastline Community College's explanation of their waitlisting system, how students are notified about open seats and rules for signing up for a waitlist. Look up frequently asked questions and waitlisting policies for your school online, and contact your academic advisor for guidance on how to proceed.

Consider Your Rank

If a course is at capacity and the registration system won't let you enroll, you can hold a spot on the waitlist until a seat is available. There is usually a maximum number of waitlist spots, and you are assigned a rank on a first come, first serve basis. For example, if you are the first person to sign up for a waitlist, you receive the rank of one. That means you're first in line when a seat opens up. If your rank is 20 or 30, however, you have less priority and may have less chance of getting into the course.

Some students drop out of class within the first week or two of the semester. If you're enrolled in a large course with 100 students, chances are about 10 are going to drop. However, smaller courses that are required for graduation or specific to a field of study may not yield as many dropouts. Consider your rank on the waitlist and the likelihood that you'll get a spot.

Show Up for Class

Attend the first day of class as if you're enrolled. Listen intently, take good notes and evaluate whether you should pursue the course. Continue attending classes so that you don't fall behind if you do get accepted.

Question mark

Talk to the Professor

Before or after the first session, talk to the professor in person. Briefly explain why you need to take the course, your current rank on the waitlist and if there is anything you can do to increase your chance of enrollment. Sometimes, the professor appreciates your proactivity and adds you to the roster. If not, you'll have to wait your turn.

Keep in mind that professors don't always have the authority to accept additional students. Oftentimes, student limits are based on maximum capacities for the classrooms, which are determined by the fire department. However, it's still good to make an impression and keep tabs on professors until final decisions are made.

Enroll in Other Classes

Enroll in backup classes just in case. Make sure your backup schedule doesn't conflict with the waitlist classes, or your waitlists might not be honored. Since waitlists are usually automatic, you don't want to create additional barriers for yourself. Also, if you receive financial aid, make sure you enroll in enough credits to satisfy the funding requirements.

Alternative Solutions

If hope is dwindling or if you don't make it into the classes you need, there may be more options. Here are some alternatives to consider before putting the kibosh on your entire plan.

Laptop and graph paper

Enroll in Online Classes

Though nothing replaces in-person instruction, there may be some courses you can take online. Check with your college's online programs and whether they require a different enrollment process. You might also consider taking general, prerequisite courses online from another institution and applying for transfer credit. In fact, Study.com has an extensive collection of online courses that transfer to over 2,000 colleges nationwide. Just verify your college's transfer credit policy and talk to your academic advisor before enrolling in any courses.

Consider Network or Extension Schools

Some universities have multiple community colleges incorporated into their educational system. Some also have extension schools that provide specific education based on trades or degree programs. You can look for community colleges in your area using the American Association of Community Colleges' search engine. If the network or extension colleges offer classes that align with your interests and graduation requirements, see if you're eligible to enroll.

Take the Course for No Credit

There's nothing stopping you from taking a course without credit so that you learn the material and prepare yourself for a future semester. This is especially helpful for challenging courses that make your knees wobble. Talk with the professor about sitting in on the course to keep your skills sharp while you wait to get a seat.

Frustrated student

Don't Give Up

Above all, keep your chin up and try not to get discouraged. Do everything in your power to increase your chances of admittance and accept the fact that sometimes things don't work out perfectly the first time. Consider a backup plan if you're delayed, and continue to prepare yourself by brushing up on fundamental skills. The more prep you do, the faster you'll get up to speed once you're enrolled.

By Rachael Pasini
December 2016
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