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Ten Dollars, No Sense

Harvard should abolish the add/drop fee

By Matthew H. Ghazarian, None

It’s not unheard of—a few weeks into the term, one realizes that shopping week was not representative of a class. Whether it’s because of the course’s content, the lecturer’s style, or the late realization that a 9 a.m. lecture just won’t happen, students often discover that they must reevaluate the classes on their study cards after they’ve been turned in.

Last spring, I found myself in this very dilemma. Fortunately, Harvard’s add/drop system allows students to make additional changes after shopping week. And so, just before 5 p.m. on the third Monday of the term, I stopped by the registrar’s office to turn in an add/drop form. The woman who took it smiled and said, “Great! You just missed the fee!” This struck me as odd. Why would I be charged money to change my schedule?

I transferred to Harvard last spring, so maybe I was late to discover this particular bureaucratic tangle. I had first heard about the add/drop fee two weeks into my first semester here. But many students I’ve talked to either don’t realize there is a fee or don’t understand why it exists. The practice of charging students when they add or drop classes seems both financially unnecessary and potential harmful to students’ academic decisions; Harvard should not penalize its students for changing their schedules after an arbitrarily chosen Monday. If regulations allow students to change their schedules until the fifth Monday of the term—which they often do—then they should be able to do so free of charge.

The financial justification for the fee is weak at best. Certainly, the cost of processing an add/drop form is nowhere near $10 per person. Moreover, it is unlikely that it costs nothing to process a schedule on the third Monday of a term but $10 to do so on the third Tuesday. Even supposing the administrative burden were that expensive, the College should draw this fee from the $32,000 in tuition it has already extracted from each student, presumably for such academic purposes.

Of course, some may argue that the $10 charge encourages students to make more prudent choices during shopping period. Indeed, students already have a generous amount of time to explore their class options. But those who argue that there is already sufficient time to pick classes miss the point.

It is possible that a student will find his or her class is a bad fit, even after the third Monday of the term. This student already faces an extremely difficult decision. Two weeks of makeup work is a daunting prospect for the average Harvard student. The other option—choosing to remain in the course—entails being trapped in a class that he or she dislikes. Given the gravity of this decision and the stress accompanying it, the administration should not be invoking a penalty that skews the student’s choice.

Granted, for many the financial impact of $10 is relatively small. However, the fine stigmatizes the idea of changing one’s schedule. If the administration’s goal is to encourage prudent scheduling decisions, it should provide improved advising—not a fine.

In general, Harvard’s add/drop system is extremely flexible, offering students opportunity to fine-tune their schedules long into the term. However, the fee for changing classes seems like an expendable vestige of past policies that should be allowed to wither away. Serving no reasonable financial purpose and attaching a stigma to changing classes after the third Monday of the term, Harvard’s $10 add/drop charge should be abolished. Like students at other schools, students here should not have to forgo a trip to the movies to alter their schedules.

Matthew H. Ghazarian ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.

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