When encountering a philosophy course during preregistration with the intriguing but uninformative title “Sex, Science and Society,” students will inevitably click “View Course Description” on MyAccess. Unfortunately, the next page doesn’t add much insight: “We have no PHIL-197 course description for the 2012-2013 academic year.”

Preregistration, which begins Monday for the spring semester, is a critical stage for students to lay claim to preferred courses and to map out their upcoming schedules. While sorting through hundreds of listings across departments, students depend on more than just reputations and assumptions. Course descriptions are critical, and without them, students are left to stab blindly at their academic futures.

Course descriptions on MyAccess include a few paragraphs summarizing a course’s content, structure and materials. Some courses include links to syllabi, although those can be outdated or missing. But many courses lack even these basic descriptions. When students are offered insufficient information about a class other than its name and professor during preregistration, it’s mystifying how they can be expected to do anything but pass the course by.

This omission is characteristic of courses throughout Georgetown’s departments. For example, only one of the 10 classes in the classical studies department offers a description. Among the 14 100-level courses in the sociology department, none offers a description. Students can also be misled when course descriptions redirect to information for a class taught by a different professor during a past semester.

The problem is worst for electives, many of which have less-than-straightforward titles — how can students be expected to make a reasonable decision on whether to take a course like “Food, Culture and Politics” without even a taste of the course content?
The university has made improvements to other areas of the registration process, notably making course evaluations easily available and accessible to students. But reviews are only of value when they can be put in context by facts about the course itself. Georgetown has a strong selection of academic choices — providing more detailed descriptions of what they entail is the best way to ensure that students take advantage of them.

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