Oh boy, has this been a week of unmitigated fun...Yes, I am talking about the course selection system at Chicago GSB.
To start at the beginning, the GSB is unique because of the flexibility it offers - no course except a leadership primer (LEAD) is compulsory; therefore you can cherry pick your way through the unlimited number of courses that are on offer. This unparalleled flexibility is one of the main reasons why many students choose the GSB over the other schools.
However the immediate implication of such a system is that a mechanism to regulate supply and demand needs to be in place - when you have Nobel prize winners in your faculty, obviously theres going to be a skew towards certain professors who can handle only so many students out of a total population of 1100(1st+2nd years).
ENTER THE ORB
The ORB (Online Registration Bidding) system tries to do precisely that - by allotting 8000 points to each student and making it a free-for-all auction. This means that students need to create "schedules" (clusters of courses) and allot a certain number of points to each schedule. Suppose there are about 65 seats in a class and your bid is one of the top 65, then you're in - however the price that you pay for a course is determined by that unsuspecting bidder who might have bid 2 points lesser and therefore lost out - the loser who has bid the closest to the last entrant into the class. His "unhappiness" factor i.e the difference in bids between his first "schedule" preference and the one he actually got determines the cost of the course....sounds terribly simple,no?
Theres more...after the initial bidding is over, there are about 4 more rounds through which you can choose to drop/add/swap(DAS) courses also. So anyone who didnt get their favs in the first round can try to pick up what they need in the next rounds. Since supply is always more than demand, invariably one ends up getting a course or the other - but if you want a Nobel prize winner or in studentspeak, a "Rockstar professor" like say Ann McGill or Marianne Bertrand, theres a price you gotto pay.
Add another variable to this - certain devious senior schemers who bid high, get a course and then sell it off during the DAS round for crazy prices and then the fun factor hits the roof!
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
A more cynical friend from Wharton would have cursed the American B-school system which makes you pay $150000 AND THEN makes you run around for the professors whom they promised in the first place in all those glossy brochures and slick Powerpoints...but come to think of it, this is just about the only solution to such a complicated problem. At one end, a school can take a stand that the management will mandate whats required for a student and whats not - and therefore create a mandatory schedule of courses. At the other end of the spectrum is the GSB which offers unlimited flexibility...for a price - 8000 points to be precise and the risk of losing out on other courses.
After thinking about it for quite a while, I couldn't come up with any other system that could handle this kind of complexity...if you are interested, theres a 4 page document that explains the Math(Jeez!) behind the system...co-authored by an Indian from IISc, Bangalore,no less. While a lot of other schools take the middle path ie we mandate some courses, you choose some, the GSB in line with its "market" approach has managed to create a free-market economy right under the noses of its students. And the minor glitch of bidding for a schedule vs. bidding for a specific course is getting corrected in Fall 2008...
Having said all that, I have just bid 7000 out of the available 8000 points on a Rockstar...this means that if the price is settled at around 6000(approx. 85% of bid), I would have only 1000 points left for Winter quarter (to give a perspective, the average would be approx. 5-7K points).
So basically this means that I AM GOING TO BE TERRIBLY PISSED OFF IF I DONT GET THIS SCHEDULE! :-#