So here’s something I wish I had known from the beginning: a “closed class” does not mean what you think it means. If the class is capped at thirty, and there are thirty students already signed up, then it just means you need to be a bit more creative about making your schedule happen. Here’s what worked for me.
Step one: Research
Considerable effort is required. Really look at the syllabus and whatever course information is offered online. If you haven’t already taken a class with this professor, then look up their research and read some of what they’ve published (or at least read the abstracts). Think about how this class fits with your interests and your history. If you're interested because it’s the only non-Friday class that fulfills your language requirement, you probably won’t be able to talk your way in. But if the class relates to a similar course you took a year ago, or builds on a study abroad experience, or might lead to a key decision for your major or a research project, then you have a good chance of getting into the class.
Step two: Email
Write a brief, polite email to the professor. Explain why this course fits your interests, how well you are prepared for it, and that you have read the professor’s work and it matches your research goals or a topic you're particularly passionate about. Ask to be put on a waiting list, or if there is any other chance of being admitted to the course. Keep it quick, don’t be too pushy, and for goodness sake don’t threaten to have your parents call the Dean if you don’t get into the course.
This technique is useful if you truly are a good match and will add to the overall course through informed participation. Prove that you will be a joy to teach. You are asking for a favor.
Step three: Go to the class
You might have gotten a positive response to the email already. Unless you get a strong negative “I don’t let people into closed classes, the wait list is full, try back next semester” then you’ve still got a shot at getting in. Show up the first day. Sit near the front. Take notes, pay attention, and when the class ends go and introduce yourself and ask if anyone has dropped the class or if there’s another way for you to be added. You’ve already done the extra work. If they can, most professors will let you in.
The final step
Make them glad they let you in. Do the readings, participate in class, ask informed questions. Be a bonus, not a burden.
Of course this doesn’t work if your school or department has a policy against wait listing or additions. But if you’re polite and engaged through the process, the worst thing that can happen is that you’ve made contact with a professor you might take a class from or work with in the future. There’s a long game to keep in mind, as well as the course in question.
So best of luck! Be bold. Take “no” as a “maybe,” and then do the (respectful) legwork to make it a “yes.”
Note: I've used similar strategies in non-academic settings. It's amazing what persistence and a little investigation can do.
FURTHER NOTE: In this method, as in all things in life, accept rejection gracefully. If the answer is "no," then there's always next semester. Or the next opportunity you haven't yet thought up.
Please leave a comment letting me know if this blog was helpful, and if there are steps I've missed or strategies to add.