Academic Year 2023-2024

8 Subjects: Enrollment Management

Note: This section is reprinted, with minor edits, from the source cited in the footnote below.6

The number of limited-enrollment undergraduate subjects at MIT has increased over the last several years. This is a departure from the longstanding MIT practice of striving to ensure that all students may take the subjects they wish whenever they are offered, so departments are urged to provide adequate staffing for their subjects. Nevertheless, subject over-enrollments occur and need to be managed. Below are the guidelines to be followed when enrollment sizes are limited. The primary goal is to minimize the class time taken up by lotteries and their cascaded effect on departments' allocation decisions and students' curricular choices. When over-enrollment problems are not resolved until the first meeting of the affected subjects, the range of options available to all involved is necessarily limited. Thus, the basic concept of these guidelines is to use the pre-registration process as the time for resolving most over-enrollments.

  1. Adequate staffing coverage. Although issues of funding, faculty availability, and balance among disciplines within departments must be considered, departments should provide, to the extent possible, the teaching resources needed to meet enrollment demands in their subjects.

  2. Involvement of the Registrar. The Registrar shall provide the information needed in a timely fashion for students, faculty, and departments to respond appropriately to over-subscriptions. For departments or faculty members who request it, the Registrar should provide class lists based on pre-registration, along with some information helpful for selecting students into subjects (e.g., student year, primary and secondary majors and minors). If additional information is required, departments may establish mechanisms for obtaining it directly from the students. The outcomes of these selection processes should be reflected in the class lists provided at the beginning of the term and in students' schedules.

    The Registrar’s Office also provides enrollment tools to assist departments with managing CI-H/HW subjects and non-CI-H/HW subjects that have limited enrollment. Enrollment tools for CI-H/HW subjects optimize students’ choices within priority groups set by the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR); they also create waitlists for all CI-H/HW subjects. All CI-H/CI-HW subjects are capped at 18 or 25 students per section. Enrollment tools for non-CI-H/HW subjects with limited enrollment provide the capacity to drop students from pre-registration, to require instructor approval for adding during the online registration and add/drop periods, and to maintain waitlists.

  3. Guidelines. Limitation of enrollment in particular subjects should include the following general guidelines:

    a. Fairness. Any mechanism used to cull enrollments should operate according to clearly specified rules that are announced in advance and are widely publicized.

    b. Timeliness. Students should generally know by Registration Day whether there is room for them in limited-enrollment subjects. The absolute latest time for holding lotteries should be the first-class session.

    c. Student-faculty contract. Students who are granted a seat in a limited enrollment subject have an obligation to take it. Students who do not show up to claim a seat on the first day of class may lose that seat. Faculty should be obliged to accept the outcome of lotteries, making exceptions to include students in rare cases, and never to exclude lottery-qualified students.

    d. Record keeping. Records relating to oversubscription of subjects must be kept in some permanent place, preferably with the relevant Dean of the school or the department. Waitlists should be maintained by subject, not by section/instructor.

    e. Priority. It is appropriate for instructors or departments to specify that majors have priority in gaining admission to a subject, so long as it does not help fulfill a GIR. Students who have previously been excluded from a subject shall generally be given priority to take it the next time it is offered. In all cases, departments must be explicit about the priority system to be applied at the time the subject is listed in the time schedule.

    f. Exceptions. Departments should be prepared to make exceptions to accommodate extreme situations. These extreme situations should not be accommodated by excluding students from a subject once they have been included in it.

    g. Publication. The MIT schedule of subjects will indicate where appropriate the likelihood of limited enrollment in a subject. Faculty who offer a limited-enrollment subject are expected to state on the subject website and on the syllabus the criteria and procedure by which selections will be made. There should be a simple procedure for students to voice complaints about how lotteries are implemented.


  • 6Source: Joint CoC/CUP Subcommittee Report "Proposed Guidelines for Enrollment Management in Oversubscribed Subjects," May 1995; updated slightly.