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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

From Woes to Websites: The History of Layup List

One writer explores the history behind the student-run course review website Layup List.

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In the days leading up to course selection, the traffic to the student-run course review website called Layup List spikes several hundredfold. A repository of student generated wisdom and warnings that spans all the way back to the early 2000s, the website itself is a simple interface that allows students to search for particular classes and see reviews written by their peers, while also giving students the option to rate a course’s difficulty and quality via a rating system. Courses with the lowest rated difficulty earn the right to be called a “layup.”

In the grand scheme of Dartmouth’s nearly-253-year history, Layup List is quite a recent phenomenon. Founded in a dorm room in 2015, it’s only been around for the past 7 years — although the site has many predecessors that the founder scraped data from, meaning that many Layup List reviews date back to the early 2000s. The struggle for efficient, clear course selection has a long history, and Layup List fills a niche for students hoping to easily access information like course descriptions, medians and professor reviews. Dartmouth’s own system for accessing this information is at best a headache, at worst a multi-day migraine.

Currently, Layup List is maintained by a few members of the Class of 2022 working in the DALI lab. I got the chance to speak to two of them — Ziray Hao ’22 and Jai Smith ’22 — about their experience running the site, some of the history of Layup List and their plans for its future. 

Hao first got involved in the Dali Lab his freshman year through a successful pitch that would eventually become the course planning website D-Planner, while Smith joined Dali as a developer his sophomore fall.

Layup List began as what Hao describes as a “dorm-room kind of … weekend code project” of Daniel Chen ’15. The problem of streamlining course selection, however, was by no means a novel idea in 2015. Before Layup List, there were a multitude of student-built sites created in hopes of facilitating what can be quite a stressful process. 

“Every CS student that is passionate about it has built their own website for course selection, so if you just search around, follow these github links, you can find Coursetown, Classy, Student Assembly Course Guide, Course Picker, the Lone Pine Course …  there’s a ton, so when we started D-Planner and when we took over Layup List, it wasn’t like ‘oh this is something super new,’” Hao said. 

Hao and Smith were first ‘tapped’ to head up the project earlier last year. Prior to their involvement, Chen had been upkeeping the site in his free time, but decided to pass the project on to some current students at the DALI lab. DALI lab director Tim Tregubov delegated the project to the students on the D-Planner team, which includes Smith and Hao. Hao commented that the students on the Layup List team see themselves as “guardians” and Smith added that LayupList has “mostly run itself” since they picked it up. 

That is, until Dartmouth changed the format of the course timetable to indicate whether a class would be taught remotely, in-person, asynchronously or in some other fashion. This caused Layup List to crash, which was a chaotic time for Smith.

“It was a little stressful because we were out in Montana when that happened, just hiking, and we got all these emails,” Smith said.

Luckily, Smith and Hao were able to update the site, even while out on the road, and it has had very few other issues.

For the future of the site, Hao and Smith have been toying with the idea of introducing new ways to incentivize an increase in reviews on the site, such as creating user profiles or allowing upvoting of particularly helpful reviews. After some analysis of user data, they’ve seen that the number of reviews has dropped off over time while viewership has remained high, suggesting that many students seem to be reading reviews on the website while only a few contribute their own.

During the interview, Smith pulled up the Google Analytics page for the site, and we watched as the number of active users increased from 20 to 22. Over the week of Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, when traffic increased due to spring term course selection, there were 6300 individual sessions — the number of user interactions with a website within a given time frame — and in the month of January, 590 votes were added to the site. 

The classes on Layup List with the highest number of reviews, unsurprisingly, are intro classes in some of the largest departments at Dartmouth. For example, the class with the most Layup List reviews — at 641 reviews — is ECON 1, “The Price System,” while GOVT 5, International Politics comes in second with 382 reviews.

From these statistics, it seems that freshmen may be a particularly active demographic on the site. As they enter Dartmouth, Layup List can serve as an invaluable tool to pick common freshman classes. Abby Kambhampaty ’25, speaking on her own course selection decisions, commented on the usefulness of the site. 

“I think [Layup List] is definitely a useful tool because a lot of people will write the reviews about a professor of a given class, and a professor makes a huge difference at Dartmouth because classes are so small,” Kambhampaty said.

Kambhampaty also expressed some concerns, noting that students should not pick classes “based off of one review” from the site. 

“Sometimes, a really brutal review will just be based off of someone salty about their bad grade, and a really good [review] is just someone who scored above the median, but you should read all of them and they can be very helpful and very telling,” Kambhampaty said. 

Chris Smith ’25 expressed similar views, noting that reviews can be accurate and helpful, but they should not be the only thing students base their course selection on.  

“I don’t think it takes much for someone to write a bad review on Layup List,” Smith said.

As course selection season wraps up for spring 2022, Layup List will recede into the background until it leaps back into prominence at the beginning of add-drop next term. However, the experience that the site gives student developers will remain. 

“[Smith] and I, we’re lucky to have had a good number of experiences in the past four years,” Hao said. “We also want to pass down [our experience] to new students, ’25s, ’24s, younger generations.” 

Ziray Hao is a member of The Dartmouth staff.