Should I "Shop" More Classes Than I Expect to Enroll In?
Each quarter, you can enroll in a minimum of 12 units and a maximum of 20 units (though we would recommend 12-15 units for your very first quarter at Stanford). However, you can attend the first few meetings of most courses without being officially enrolled. This gives you the opportunity to "shop" many possible classes during the first week, and then pick the ones that work best for you.
Benefits of "shopping" extra classes
Attending a larger number of courses that first week gives you options when putting together your final study list--you can evaluate the syllabi, the pace of the course, the density of the reading, and then decide which courses work best together. Visiting classes can also be a way to sample a field, make contact with a professor who interests you, or look ahead to what you might take in the future.
While you can "shop" most classes without officially enrolling in them, there are some notable exceptions: Introductory Seminars, PWR courses, language courses, and some limited-enrollment courses, for example. We recommend that you contact the instructor before trying to sit in on one of these classes.
Note for 2021-2022:
During this post-vaccine period of the pandemic, many departments and faculty members have determined not to offer in-person shopping in order to control the number of students in a given space and to make contact tracing more effective if and when it is needed. While it is always a good idea to contact the faculty of those classes that you are interested in shopping, it is particularly important now. Ask if it is possible to shop the class without being enrolled and, if not, ask if there is another way to learn more information about a class you are considering adding to your schedule. If you have questions about this, contact your Academic Advisor.
If you're unsure of what classes to take this quarter, it can often be easier to start off shopping more classes than you need, then dropping the courses you are no longer interested in. This ensures that you won't miss any important announcements or assignments in the first couple weeks of class. If you don't shop additional classes and then discover you don't like one of the classes you're enrolled in, you may have to scramble to find a replacement class and catch up on the work.
Officially, you can add/drop classes through the end of the third week of classes. Practically, however, while you can add and drop all the way through the third week, you should aim to finalize your classes by the end of the first week or the beginning of the second at the latest. Instructors are often very reluctant to allow students to add a class that they have not been attending. It is worthwhile to remember that Axess may allow you to do things that are not actually possible, and an instructor has ultimate say as to who gets to enroll in their courses. The quarter system moves very quickly, and Stanford courses cover a lot of material. Even if you’re just checking out a course, you should be doing the work. Otherwise you may find yourself uncomfortably behind by the time you make the decision to stay in the course.