I'm hoping trying to register for a course I need that is currently full, and am told that I can try contacting the professor for permission to enroll. Under what circumstances are such requests typically granted? More students = more work for the professor, so I'm trying to figure out why a professor might agree to allow me in.

My best guess is that I should:

  • Convince them that since I'm a good student, I won't create very much extra work for them.
  • Convince them that since I'm a good student, allowing me into the course will raise the average grade for the term and make them look good.

What else can I say that they might find compelling?

  • 17
    If it's a course where most of the students are largely uninterested in the subject (only taking the course to satisfy some university wide requirement, such as a math course), then showing interest in the subject would help a lot. But make sure you don't overdo it, as I'm sure the professor has seen this strategy before. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:54
  • 64
    Most professors are rather far from being [i]homo economicus[/i] - the caricature presented by economists of human beings as purely rational and self-interested. (If we were, we'd all be in industry making twice as much money.) We're usually happy for altruistic reasons to help out deserving students in need, whatever that means to us. (We're not always fair in our judgements of who is deserving and who is in need.) Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 0:10
  • 6
    What kind of class and institution? The answer will be vastly different for an upper-level seminar capped at 15 students versus an intro level class capped at 200, for example.
    – 1006a
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:29
  • 1
    Does the course include any sort of group work activities? A professor with a class of 80 students might allow an extra student so that he can arrange the class in groups of 3 students, for example. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 19:19
  • @AlexanderWoo For nitpicking purposes, "selfish reasons" can easily include altruism. If altruism increases your well-being, which it does for most people, then you've got good selfish grounds to pursue it; don't even have to bring up that engaging in it will contribute to making the system one that generates greater well-being on average which would mean you've got good distant selfish reasons to pursue it.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:16

8 Answers 8


I disagree with your proposed strategy. The marginal added workload of one additional student is usually negligible, and the average grade for the term is not usually something that reflects well or poorly on a professor to a significant degree. These aren't usually the main issues.

I would expect the professor to make the decision by trying to balance the benefits to you of taking the course, versus the negative effects on the other students from having the course be more crowded. Your case will be more compelling if you can show that:

  1. Not being able to take the course would represent a major hardship for you. Something on the level of delaying your graduation. If the only effect is that taking it later is somewhat less convenient, means a fuller schedule, means getting up at 8am, etc, that won't be compelling.

  2. The fact that you couldn't register for the course normally is due to circumstances beyond your control, and not a result of inadequate planning on your part.

  3. You are adequately prepared for the course, and are reasonably likely to pass it. Being a "good student" overall means something here, but more to the point is showing that you have done reasonably well in all prerequisite courses. If your preparation is marginal, the professor might think there's not much point in giving you permission to take a class you would be likely to fail.

There isn't much you can do about the negative effects from crowding; let the professor evaluate that. Don't make suggestions like "I could skip all the lectures so that there will still be enough seats". That tends to counteract #3 above.

Definitely do not attempt to bribe the professor with money, favors, etc, in exchange for being allowed to take the class. (This should go without saying, but I have known it to happen.)

  • 9
    In my experience as a student, I can attest that your number 1 point is accurate. I hit the unit cap when registering for classes, and I needed one more GE class to graduate. Since I hit the unit cap I was unable to register for the class while it was open with priority registration and I couldn't get on the waiting list. I explained that not being able to take this class would delay my graduation by a quarter just for one class and that I had already contacted the dean of my college and had gotten approval to overload the class. He signed my overload form and let me in the class.
    – Dragonrage
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 3:20
  • 17
    You could also add to the list that showing true interest in the topic is a very convincing factor. As a lecturer there is nothing more boring than a bunch of students who just sit there because they have to. If you can have an additional one who's a good student, who's interested in the topic and who is known to contribute to the course, I'd be much more inclined to admit him though the deadline's passed or the course is full. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 11:44
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    And #2 is also something I can confirm to be effective. My course registration day was once on a religious holiday when I was not able to use the computer to register for classes. One of the classes I wanted to take filled up and I contacted the professor with an explanation of what had happened and he let me in without any objections.
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:33
  • I always said things like "I'd love to take your course because it's related to my career interests thusly" or "because so-and-so recommended that I take a course with you" or "because I need to to graduate," supplemented when applicable with "Although I don't have pre-req X, I have done Y, and I'll be happy to do any extra reading you recommend." I got into almost all the extra courses I wanted. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 17:21
  • @PatricHartmann That's how I once got into an overloaded course. The professors told me that there was a waiting list for the course, but if I attended the lectures for the first few weeks, they would move me to the front of the list because they'd rather have students who were interested and already engaged. After a couple of weeks, there were enough no-shows for a spot to open up for me, and the professors were happy to have me in the class!
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:27

In my own teaching experience, I allow overloads, or extra students, only if the student has put the course off until the semester of graduation (which happens with students often in my subject, mathematics).

If your college or university so offers, you may also ask if your institution has "independent study" credit. In this case - especially if all seats in the lecture room remained filled until the first exam - you would be expected to work on your own apart from prearranged office meetings with the professor. This path has the advantage of providing compensation (however small) for the professor taking the extra load.

As a last resort, your institution should have a waitlist for each of the filled sections. Get on all of these waitlists, especially if the course has a high drop/non-participation rate that shows up early on (at my institution, I'll lose three or four seats right away in sections of our higher-level stats course. If you get in before the last add date, get prepped to do a week or so of catching up right away.

If all available paths fail, you may do well in purchasing the material yourself and preparing for the next session. Auditing policy may not allow for this, but usually seats start to empty after the first few weeks (again, especially after the first exam) and in my own experience I have not found occasional students attending the class to be disruptive or against institutional policy.

  • Just to add a way other schools do it, my university doesn't have waitlists, they just send out a text blast when a spot opens up and whoever gets to a computer first gets it. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 23:28
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    "This path has the advantage of providing compensation (however small) for the professor taking the extra load." — perhaps at yours (lucky!) but sadly that doesn't apply at every university Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 23:59
  • To add to the waitlist bit: I know at my university, we're expected to have full classes for the next semester and waitlists for several classes. In this situation, personally admitting a student to the course would be bypassing someone on the waitlist -- so it might not hurt to try this option first.
    – pjs36
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 3:18
  • Putting the course off until the semester of graduation seems like a pretty bad reason to allow someone in (from some perspectives). From the students perspective, you're probably a hero, and that is good. From an education perspective, you're basically saying that it's perfectly fine that they put off courses they needed to the point that they missed registration. That's a pretty bad message to be sending out, essentially allowing them to get away with their bad planning. It just seems like an odd criteria, essentially "they weren't interested in this course so I will squeeze them in".
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 12:02
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    JMac: Students aren't going to put off a course until the last semester just so they can register late. It would be much easier to just register on time. I see your desire to punish students for bad planning, but most would find that rather unimportant compared to helping them graduate on time. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:20

Faculty may not always have the ability to admit students into full courses. We don't have the staff in our department to meet the student demand. So our administrators normally set the roster size to the be the legal limit of people in the classroom. The only way to enlarge the class is to find a larger classroom; and classroom space is another thing we are short on.

All this to say, no matter how nicely you ask, you still may not get in even if the instructor wants to let you in.


I usually based my decision on how many students I already had enrolled. If the cap for the course was 25 or less, I would usually let a student or two in. I assume you are enrolling for Fall 2017, so if the course would not be offered in the spring (especially if you needed it for graduation), I would have no objection to letting you in. If this were a large lecture course (35 or more students), I might still let you in, but the odds decrease as the class size increases. A word of warning: I spent my career at a small liberal arts school, so we were generally more lenient in these matters. At a large institution, your request may get an icier reception, regardless of your stated case.


I agree with most of what is said above but would add one thing: I find it a lot harder to turn down a student who's standing in front of me than I do to reply in the negative to an e-mail request.


Maybe they do not need to be compelled.

We set up a maximal number of students for some courses. If there are more, the students can still ask to get in (or put themselves on a waitlist). Then the teaching professor will be able to decide. Basically, if there are two more students, they would usually both be allowed in the course. But if there are 25 students more for a course you planned to take 15 students in total? You might not have the infrastructure (large enough lecture hall, enough tutors, ...) to still allow all of them in the course. But you also cannot pick, so none will be allowed.

So in that case: If you are the only extra student your chances are good, whatever your reasons are. If there is a whole lot of you, things get more difficult.

  • In this case (at least here at the college I work for) the department chair will add a second section. Another reason to allow students in aside from teh "needed to graduate this term" is that just like a minimal section an adjunct gets paid less, with it slightly fuller (30 instead of 25, etc) then they get paid somewhat more...
    – ivanivan
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:26
  • Here no one gets paid more or less based on the number of students and also the department can't just add courses. I guess this is heavily based on location and tradition.
    – skymningen
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:56

If the Professor doesn't let you in before Class. Try showing up the first day of class. Keep showing up to class and showing interest in the class. I've gotten into a "full" class by doing this. The first day multiple people showed up wanting to join the class. By the end of week 2 hardly any of them were showing up and the Professor let me in the class. My actions showed I was serious about wanting to be there.


Many professors will simply do this as a matter of course. I have personally gotten into many classes simply by emailing the professor and saying 'Is there any way that I could get into this course?' Almost every reply was a yes. Most professors expect a few students to not show up the first day or to drop the class within a few weeks, so letting an extra student in usually is no big deal. I have only in very exceptional circumstances had to explain why I wasnt able to enroll in the course on time.

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