Classes overflowing!

GIRs too popular for their own good

People say that attending MIT is like drinking from a fire hose. In many classes this fall, however, the only overflow was in the classrooms.

Many freshman GIRs are almost filled to capacity. 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) has 382 students in the 425-seat 10-250, and 8.01L (Physics I) has 146 students in the 155-seat 6-120.

Other classes have more enrolled students than they do seats in the lecture rooms, which was a problem in the first few weeks of term. 18.02 (Multivariable Calculus) has 455 students with a lecture in 10-250, 11.015J (Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History) has around 30 students in 4-253 — which has a 22-person capacity — and 7.012 (Introduction to Biology) has 691 students enrolled for a lecture in the 566-seat 26-100.

In 7.012, there seemed to be chaos on the first few days of school. Amelia R. Mockett ’15 said that she arrived to the first day of 7.012 25 minutes early and had to sit near the back of the lecture hall, and that by the time lecture started people were spilling out into the hallways. Nathan E. Colgan ’15 had to sit on the stairs on the first day after arriving minutes before the lecture. Many students took advantage of the video broadcasts of the lectures on MIT cable, which were also uploaded online, but some students were critical of the overflow room where the lecture was broadcast live.

“There was no one there to keep you motivated, but only slides and a video of the professor. Many people just fell asleep,” said Colgan.

When asked why so many students were assigned to these classes, Assistant Registrar Ri Romano said that “each instructor or course administrator determines how to manage enrollment in a class, including the size and number of sections.”

Registrar Mary Callahan also said that “student choice is one of the driving factors in resource allocation.” She said that the departments try to accommodate students by adding recitations to maintain the 25-student sections and “focus on individualized student learning,” and by offering alternative classes, which in the case of biology includes 7.013 and 7.014 in the spring.

7.012 Professor Eric S. Lander did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In large and small classes alike, bulging enrollment is a direct result of high interest, and each department determines the enrollment with student choice and quality of education in mind.

Despite over-enrollment, the issue did not seem to substantially affect some students. Barbara K. Schloss ’15, who is taking 11.015J, said that extra students were pushed to sitting around the edge of the room instead of around the table in the middle, and that students were less able to participate, but that overall “it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

In big lectures, the issue seemed to quickly resolve itself. Colgan said that in 7.012, “people just stopped coming [to lecture] after the first few weeks,” and that the problem of seating quickly went away — a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many students. Logan J. Mercer ’15 is a student in 18.02, a class with a similarly vanishing population. He said that “the lecture hall is full sometimes, so you may not be able to sit next to all seven of your friends, but there’s always a seat and you can hear the professor just as well.”

Michael McGraw-Herdeg over 12 years ago

I seem to remember hearing predictions that if MIT increased its undergrad class size without getting buyoff from the faculty and academic departments, there might be problems like classroom crowding and resource shortages.

Looking at MIT registrar data (, it looks like the fall 2011 freshman class has 1,128 students, compared with 1,067 students in the prior year. That is only about a six percent increase, but further increases are planned over the next few years.

It would be great to read about what course admins and faculty have been doing to prepare for a more populous student body and whether it's working.

Bruno Faviero over 12 years ago

Thank you for your comment. We do plan on having an article later in the year about how the school plans on accommodating the growing class sizes.