Waiting For Waitlists

The annual stress that is the UBC course enrolment process has passed, for some, at least. For everyone who didn’t get into all the courses they wanted, the process remains ongoing. Fortunately for those people, two websites exist to make their lives easier.

Both websites promise to search the SSC for openings in full courses and to notify you via email or text once a spot opens up. charges a one-time $5 fee for the service, while remains free for now. Both sites say they were created by UBC students, and while everything about the creators of the sites is anonymous, I managed to sleuth out the identity of one of the creators of, who agreed to anonymously answer some questions. ( didn’t respond to emails.)

How does the website work? We have a server running 24/7 that queries SSC. The system is completely automated and navigates to the course website to check if a spot is available. Within minutes of a spot opening up, our system sends out an email and text to the student.

Has UBC ever tried to shut them down? We’ve never had any trouble from UBC. We hope that UBC realizes that we are merely offering a service to the students. Our site reduces the administrative burden on course directors, and also likely reduces the traffic through UBC servers as we can aggregate multiple people into a single query, and reduce the constant influx of people logging into SSC trying to get into specific courses.

People within Enrolment Services and UBC IT both said they are aware of the sites but will continue to remain entirely hands off; IT wasn’t even sure they could prevent the sites from searching for open spots in courses even if they wanted to. While these websites are useful for students who want to outsource the dreary task of constantly searching for spots in courses, is this really the right solution to the problem of too many students for too few course spots? Wouldn’t it be more equitable and more effective to simply create a better waitlist system within the SSC and mandate its use across all courses?

Currently, the waitlist element of the SSC can be described as a one-size-fits-all item. Administering them – actually switching a student over from the waitlist into a spot in a course – is all done manually. Prioritizing who gets to the top of the waitlist is done manually too; it’s usually not simply a first-come, first-served system. Whether or not to use the existing SSC waitlist system is decided on a departmental, and then on a course-by-course basis. It’s not difficult to see why some administrators might prefer to simply throw spots in courses wide open and let students sort out who gets those spots themselves. In order to get a better waitlist system with wider adoption, you need something that is easily customizable, and that will automate adding students from the waitlist to empty spots in the course.

UBC IT created the SSC in-house and could modify how waitlists work. However, there was said to be no consensus about how an ideal waitlist would look like to accommodate all of the various faculties and departments and until that occurs, upgrading the waitlist feature of the SSC is a very low priority.

In other words, while a customizable waitlist would likely work best for course administrators, IT won’t consider changing anything unless everyone agrees on a one-size-fits-all model. If only some enterprising UBC students could build a website for easily resolving Catch-22s.


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  1. Nice article!

    Perhaps we can nudge for better waitlists somehow?

    Posted by John D | August 7, 2012, 2:48 pm
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