When it comes to course enrollment/registration in a limited-enrollment course, most institutions use a sequential system where students pick their course schedules sequentially (often ordered by seniority, then first-come-first-served or randomly within groups with the same seniority). Some institutions, particularly business schools, use "bidding mechanisms," where students bid (in bidding points, not real money) on the opportunity to take over-demanded courses.

These have their advantages and disadvantages, but it seems like there ought to be other ways to handle course allocation. For example, a university might use a system like a sports draft, in which people pick just one course at a time. Are such draft systems actually used and are there other interesting non-standard ways of handling registration for restricted-enrollment graduate or undergraduate courses?

A clarification: By sequential mechanisms, I mean mechanisms in which students one-by-one select their full course schedule for the upcoming term. Obviously some systems allow a group of students to register within a given window. I still count this as sequential as it is processed sequentially: the order within that window is determined by the order in which the students in that registration window submit their requests. In economics and mechanism design, this is typically referred to as a sequential dictatorship (or a serial dictatorship, which is slightly different only in that the order is predetermined and not dependent on previous selections).

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    Where I studied, it was first come first served, and the date you could register depended on your surname.
    – Davidmh
    Nov 17, 2015 at 18:39
  • This question reads a bit like a shopping question (it is looking for any number of examples), but one might hope it can be changed to be more suitable. For instance, you could ask whether any university uses the described system where "people pick just one course at a time" (thus, describing one or more examples to prove that yes, there are such universities with that particular system, is a valid and acceptable answer). Alternatively, you might ask for a solution to avoid the system to mention. The problem with the current question is the request for an open-ended "list of examples". Nov 17, 2015 at 19:03
  • Also, could you clarify what you mean by "sequentially", please? Does it mean that essentially, all courses can be registered at a time, so a student takes half an hour to one-by-one (i.e. sequentially) click the desired courses into their schedule? Or does it mean a certain sequence in which courses need to be registered is prescribed, so you first have to pick a course of type A, and then a course of type B? Or something else? Nov 17, 2015 at 19:06
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    I have edited to make it non-list-centric and focusing instead on the mechanisms, and voted to reopen.
    – jakebeal
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:50
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    I think the edit actually makes it more "list-y." Now it sounds like you want a list of universities (including those using methods that have already been described in an answer), which is much broader than a list of methods. I wouldn't have voted to close before but I probably would now. (I say this as a user, it's not an Official Moderator Opinion or anything.)
    – ff524
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


The following institutions have (or had) non-standard course allocation mechanisms. Please add to this list if you know of others, or add additional links if you can find more detailed information on the various systems.

Other resources on course allocation mechanisms:

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