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Dear Grinnell students who want to take CSC-151 (#1151)

Topics/tags: For prospective students

Dear Student [1],

I’m glad to hear that you’re interested in taking CSC-151, Functional Problem Solving. CSC-151 is an awesome course and Computer Science is a wonderful discipline, good not only helping you to think differently but also for contributing some skills that may be applicable in a wide variety of other disciplines.

The CS department does our best to ensure that every Grinnell student who wants to take CSC-151 can do so and that every Grinnell student who wants to major in CS can also do so. However, our resources are limited. So you won’t always be able to start CSC-151 when you plan to. And you may find it harder to add it as a fallback course.

Here’s what I can tell you based on recent experience.

Not all incoming first-year students who want to take CSC-151 in their first semester will be able to do so. Grinnell’s registration system does not provide us easy access to information about how many incoming first-years try to register and cannot. I have heard that we generally close in the first round of registration. But don’t worry! It’s fine to start exploring CS in your second semester! About half of our majors don’t start until then.

All students who are interested in taking CSC-151 in their first year should be able to do so. We have yet to close a first-year student out of the spring sections of CSC-151 [2]. I hope we never have to. I suppose it’s a possibility, but it’s unlikely.

All students interested in taking CSC-151 in the fall of their second year who preregister for CSC-151 that semester should be able to do so. Once again, we have yet to close out a rising second-year student who preregisters for the course.

You can complete a CS major even if you take CSC-151 in the fall of your second year. While we would generally recommend that students start exploring the potential for a CS major in their first year, the major is designed so that you can start in the fall of your second year. Depending on a host of other factors (e.g., your math background, whether you plan to study abroad), you might even be able to start a CS major by taking CSC-151 in the Spring of your second year. However, we would strongly discourage that approach.

If you do not preregister for CSC-151, your chances of getting the course are significantly reduced. For the Fall sections of CSC-151, we need to reserve spaces for incoming first-years, so we do not allow anyone to add the course after preregistration. For the Spring sections of CSC-151, we generally find that the course fills, and sometimes over-fills, during preregistration. Once again, there isn’t room to add more students.

Is there a moral to all of this? I suppose Preregister is one conclusion you should reach. I’d add If you want to take CS at Grinnell, you are best off trying to take it in your first two years. We’re not alone in having that approximate policy. Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies limits registration from upper-level students, as does Linguistics. And we do manage to fit many third-years and seniors into CSC-151. It’s just easier for students if they start early. A happier conclusion is that we’ve been able to serve all students who try to take CS in their first two years.



Alternate Version

I’m glad to hear that you’re interested in CS.

As per department policy, we kept all rising second-years who preregistered for the course and have reserved all of the remaining seats for incoming first-year students.

I’m happy to put you on the waiting list for the course, but I won’t be able to let you know anything for certain until after the incoming first-years preregister in the fall.

Sorry that I can’t be of more help.

Postscript: This musing was inspired by the host of emails from students asking to be added to CSC-151 in Fall 2021. As the longer note suggests, we cut anyone who wasn’t a rising second-year and we’re holding all remaining slots for incoming first-years. The rising second-years who did not preregister are on a waiting list.

[1] If you address me as Prof. or Professor, I will address you with a similarly generic title.

[2] I suppose I should also note that we used to say the same thing about Calculus, but have had years that we’ve had to close first-years out of Fall Calculus.

Version 1.0 of 2021-05-21 .