Every tour I give, I get the questions, "Will I be able to graduate in four years? What if I can't get all of my classes each semester? How many people have to spend an extra semester or even a year to finish and graduate with a degree?" Having never had a problem at UVa, I decided to do some research.
There are so many fear mongering articles out there warning students to watch out or they won't graduate until they're 33, to be careful in choosing a college, to be wary of large universities because they drown individuals in a sea of faces and don't care what the result is. I don't know where these writers were going, but it wasn't UVa. Let's get these facts straight.
Picking Classes as a First Year
Incoming first years pick their classes over the summer during Orientation. The Spring semester before that summer, current students pick their classes, but in most classes, seats are saved in anticipation for the first years signing up in the summer. At Orientation, first years have access to an advisor as well as two students who can help students plan for meals, walking distances between classes, and homework load.
The Early August Shuffle
During the first few weeks of August, students gain the ability to change classes. Movement definitely happens, and if you didn't get everything that you wanted, early August is your first shot to move around and try for it.
The first two weeks of Fall and Spring semester are called "Add/ Drop." During this time, students can visit 15 classes if they'd like, and they can change which 5 classes they want to keep for the semester as many times as they want during that time frame. There is no penalty for dropping a class during this time period. I repeat: zero penalty. No one knows how many classes you added or dropped during that time. It's completely okay, and tons of students shuffle and resettle with new schedules.
If after class sign ups, August, and Add/ Drop, you still do not have the exact schedule you want, you can try Course Action-ing into a class. It's a simple form that you print out and bring to the professor of the class you're not in, ask them to sign it, and you're in. It's that simple. Especially in the larger lecture halls that have over 100, adding even 10 more students won't affect the professor at all.
Everything said, as a coming in as a first year, I got every class I wanted. This Spring, I signed up for my 2009 classes but didn't get Italian 201. I went to the professor of the class, and she said not to worry and that I could course action into her class in the Fall without any worries. And so, I say now what I always tell prospective students searching for colleges: you can either make this a really fun and exciting time to explore your options as a future college student, or you can make it a death march and burn out before July. Relax; it all works out.