For some students, back-to-school shopping includes not only books and supplies but also courses.
More than one out of every three college-level students qualifies as a "course shopper" -- students who repeatedly drop and add courses during the drop/add period of the semester, according to a recent University of Florida study.
According to that same study, the shop sometimes makes the GPA drop.
One purpose of the study was to see if this type of behavior benefits students, said Linda Serra Hagedorn, a professor at the University of Florida and lead author of the study.
"We looked at, over the long run, does course shopping pay off for students?" she said.
The study indicates that course shopping differs from simply dropping a course because, to fit the definition, a course drop must be accompanied by the addition of another course in its place.
"What we looked at is students who did this consistently and with a pattern," Hagedorn said.
The study focused on two main types of shopping behavior: cyclic shopping -- the pattern of dropping a course and adding another in its place -- and bulk shopping, which involves signing up for more courses than the student expects to complete with the expectation of dropping them later.
Hagedorn said that to qualify as a course shopper, students have to display these behaviors "not just once, but over several semesters."
The study compared G.P.A. and course completion ratios for students who engaged in course shopping behaviors to those who did not. According to the study, the frequent shoppers were more likely to have lower G.P.A.'s than those who did it occasionally. Occasional course shopping was not associated with lower academic performance.
"Shopping in our sample did not appear to be helpful to our students ... these students were not performing as well as those who did not course shop," Hagedorn said.
Penn State does not see a huge impact from course-shopping students, said Karen Schultz,
"We know [course shopping] occurs, but we don't believe it's widespread," she said.
The study recommended that students be discouraged from course shopping through easier access to all course syllabi, increasing interaction with students who drop courses and analyzing student records for patterns of course-shopping behaviors, among other methods.
Amanda Zimmerman (sophomore-hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said she thinks course shopping is "definitely a problem" at Penn State.
"Whenever I try to get online to schedule my classes, everything's full," she said.
Zimmerman said that a student signing up for classes with the intention of dropping them later is unfair.
"If people, especially upperclassmen because they get to schedule first, are signing up for things and then dropping them, they're cheating the underclassmen," she said.
The study found that course shopping was practiced by about one-third of the 5,000-student sample.
Frequent course shopping, classified as someone who displays the behavior in 30 percent or more of their enrollments, made up about 7 percent of that total.