Ask a Professor: How to Join a Class That’s Already Full

Can you register for a full class? With the right strategy, students can join full classes. A college professor walks through what steps to take.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on February 4, 2022

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Ask a Professor: How to Join a Class That’s Already Full


When I was a history professor, it happened every semester — my classes filled up not long after registration opened. And on the first day, students would come up after class to ask about joining the course even though it was full.

Here's the good news for students trying to join a full class: In my experience, every student who wanted to enroll in my class eventually got in, even if that meant going slightly over the official cap.

But in order to get the class schedule you want, it's important to know the best strategies to register for a class that's already full. Take the following seven steps to increase your chances of getting into a full class.

1. Know Your School's Waitlist

Every college has its own policies for enrolling in full classes. Make sure you understand the policies at your school, particularly related to the waitlist.

What's a waitlist? At many schools, students can sign up for full classes by adding their name to a waitlist. As enrolled students drop the class, waitlisted students automatically take their spot.

If your registrar uses a waitlist, sign up as soon as possible. The higher your spot on the waitlist, the more likely you'll get into that class. But don't count on the waitlist to get a seat — keep taking other steps to enroll.

2. Stalk the Registration Page

Whether your school uses a waitlist or not, get familiar with the registration process. Check regularly to see if a spot opens up in the class. Sometimes, if another student drops, you can register for the class even before a waitlisted student takes the open seat.

At schools that use a waitlist, the registration page often lists how many students signed up for the waitlist. If you're trying to get into a small seminar class and the waitlist is nearly as high as the registration cap, consider other options.

3. Talk to the Professor

Professors often have a lot of freedom when it comes to adding students to their classes. So make sure to reach out to the professor as soon as possible. An email before the semester starts can land your name on an informal waitlist. And make sure to attend class on the first day to talk to the professor.

Make a succinct case for why the professor should add you. Remember, adding students above the cap means more work for the professor. In general, professors are more likely to add declared majors to their classes. Mention if the class meets a graduation requirement and show enthusiasm for the course.

I've taught at private and public universities. At every school, professors could add students by giving out an add code or waiver. Department admins might also add waivers to a student's registration account with the professor's permission.

However, many professors wait until after the first week to officially add students because enrollment numbers tend to drop. Note, too, that some professors may refuse to go above the class cap.

4. Attend the Class

While trying to join a full class, make sure to regularly attend the class during the first week of the term.

That's for two reasons. First, professors are more likely to add students who are committed to the class. And second, jumping into a class the second week can leave students struggling to catch up.

Missing classes early in the term can put students dangerously behind. During the first week, professors cover requirements, expectations, and course material. Concepts from those first meetings might show up on exams or assignments. Attending class increases your chances of joining and improves your odds of performing well once you're officially enrolled.

5. Visit an Advisor

An academic advisor or registration advisor can help you understand your options for joining a full class.

Advisors help students join full classes every term, so they often know the best steps to take. For example, some departments run their own waitlist for classes. Advisors can also recommend alternatives, like other classes that meet graduation requirements.

6. Know the Drop Date

Class enrollments fluctuate a great deal the first week of the semester. Some students show up the first day and immediately drop the class, while others need to change sections because of their work schedule.

At most schools, students can add or drop classes without penalty during the first week of the term. Knowing the drop date improves your odds of successfully joining a full class. Check the online registration after the first day to see whether anyone has dropped or how many students joined off the waitlist.

After the drop date, professors and advisors can often still add students to the class. But if you haven't officially joined and the drop date has already passed, you might need a backup plan.

7. Make a Backup Plan

Sometimes, students simply cannot register for a full class. Maybe the class is only offered once a year and the department holds spots for seniors or majors. Or maybe the class simply hit a cap. One semester, I almost had to turn away students because the room capacity was close to violating the fire code!

Students need to make a backup plan if they can't add a full class. Look into similar classes, including online options. You can also check whether the department will offer the class next term.

You should also enroll in a backup option to avoid getting stuck with a hole in your course schedule after the drop date. That can make the first week of the term chaotic — you might need to attend more classes than usual. But most class lists finalize within the first few days of the term.

If you get into a full class, be sure to thank the professor, department admin, or advisors who helped you. Also, stay engaged in class as professors are more likely to add you to a full class in the future if they know you're a solid student.


Feature Image: kasto80 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Curious about the benefits and drawbacks of the pass/fail grading system? Use these tips to decide when you should take a course pass/fail. All colleges require a minimum number of credits to graduate. Learn how many credits you'll need for an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree. To earn a bachelor's degree, students choose a field to specialize in by declaring a major. Learn what a major is and how it can affect your career.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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