10 Popular College Courses That Are Notoriously Difficult to Get Into

Just about every college campus has a legendary course that everyone wants to get into, but few actually have the pleasure of taking. Some popular courses are so hot that it’s not unheard of for more than quadruple the capacity of students to show up on the first class day, desperately hoping to make it in. Many schools use a lottery or points system to give everyone who wants in a chance, but even then, many students walk away disappointed. From wine tasting to shrewd political strategy, we wish you good luck if you’re trying to make it into one of these super popular classes.

  1. Historical Study B61

    Harvard Law professor Morton “Mort the Tort” Horowitz’s lectures are a hot ticket. On the first day of classes, more than 800 people showed up, filling the Paine music hall beyond capacity with students ready to hear what Horowitz has to say. The class is commonly known as “Warren Court,” as Horowitz primarily focuses on the years of 1953 to 1969, in which Earl Warren was the Supreme Court Chief Justice. These years saw major changes in the court, with landmark rulings on obscenity, federal power, civil rights, and judicial power. The course itself is rated as difficult, with lots of reading and tough grading, but the challenge is an attraction for many. The fortunate few who are able to make it in to the class through a lottery system are treated to interesting knowledge, reflection, and even the occasional song by Mort the Tort.

  2. Introduction to the History of Art: Renaissance to the Present

    Art history might sound like a snooze to some students, but at Yale, it’s one of the hottest classes around. Alexander Nemerov teaches the university’s most popular course, Introduction to the History of Art: Renaissance to the Present. Hosted in the Yale Art Gallery auditorium, students study the works of Andy Warhol, Caravaggio, and other great artists. More than 600 students showed up to the first lecture, but due to space constraints, the class is capped at just 270.

  3. Baseball and American Culture

    At Emory University, the first course to reach its registration cap is often Baseball and American Culture. This class is popular due to its compelling subject matter, giving students a chance to fulfill a writing requirement with something they are interested in. Historically, this has been one of Emory’s most popular courses, and the university was among the first to offer a course on baseball. Topics covered in Baseball and American Culture include the connection between baseball and writers, and specifically how players are represented in literature and film. It’s easy to see why students are so attracted to this fun, but hardworking class: texts include The Boys of Summer, and the course offers screenings of baseball films including Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, and A League of Their Own.

  4. Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature

    Students love to take this Harvard course that focuses on fairy tales. It’s easy to understand why: most of the texts are childhood favorites that include Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Roald Dahl works, a respite from heavy reading that we’re certain is welcomed by students. But the lucky 32 who are lotteried into this class aren’t necessarily in for an easy ride, with an intense study of the “invention of childhood” in literature for and about children. Still, the course does sound like a lot of fun, and those who make the cut should certainly consider themselves lucky: more than 300 students showed up to take part in the course’s first lecture.

  5. Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature

    Students at Harvard have been quite interested in the course Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature, which discusses the interesting intersection of biology and ethics. Issues covered include “custom-made” babies, using drugs to enhance athletic performance, and cloning. Professors expected to enroll about 135 students in the Spring 2012 semester, but 600 came to join the first lecture. That crowd was cut down to 300, the largest allowable size that would fit into the classroom.

  6. Viticulture and Oenology Seminar

    California is known for its rich wine culture, so it’s no surprise that Stanford, located in the Bay Area, offers courses in viticulture, which is a fancy way of saying they have a class in wine tasting. It’s also not at all surprising that college students would jump at the chance to drink wine for course credit. Each class session includes guest speakers who come bearing four to six wines that students taste and discuss, and there’s also a class trip to Napa or Sonoma included. It’s rumored that this class is so popular, students wait in line overnight to get registered. Auditing is not allowed, for obvious reasons.

  7. Theatrical Fencing

    This course is one of the few college offerings you’ll find that might prepare you for a role in the latest Kill Bill installment. Created by the kinesiology department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, students learn to practice not just fencing, but theatrical fencing, a talent that we think might open plenty of doors. It’s an expensive course to take at nearly $1,000 for out-of-state students, but that hasn’t stopped students from flocking to the opportunity: the department had to raise its capacity to 28 to accommodate demand.

  8. Negotiations

    At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, students learn a lesson in economics before they even set foot in the classroom. At registration, they’re given 3,000 points with which they can bid on class spots. One particularly popular course, Victoria Medvec’s Negotiations, went for a minimum of 1,452 points, almost half of students’ points for the entire year. The course is wildly popular, counting toward Entrepreneurship & Innovation majors, as well as Management & Organizations majors, and designed to improve skills in all phases of negotiation, an important talent for any MBA.

  9. Greek Mythology

    At UC Santa Barbara, students are quite desperate to get into Professor Apostolos Athanassakis’ Greek Mythology course. The class counts toward many students’ graduation requirements, and has way more interest than capacity. In the 2010 Winter term, Athanassakis crammed 500 students into this class, but had to turn away more than 300 others who did not make the cut.

  10. Studies in Grand Strategy

    This Yale class is a cult favorite, and it’s rumored that if you have plans to become a president or secretary of state, this is a class you absolutely must take. The course is taught by former Reagan advisor Charles Hill and John Lewis, and often includes visits from political legends including Henry Kissinger and John D. Negroponte. Demand is incredibly high for this legendary course, with about 100 undergrads competing for 15 spots. Recently, the class has been expanded to two groups of 24 to accommodate more students.

     

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