How the Lottery Works

The objective of the lottery logic is to assign courses in a fair way. This is done through random assignment and assigning one course to all registrants before assigning any second course, and providing a second course to each registrant who requests one before assigning any third course.

Members can prioritize their study groups however it works best for them. Some members select the study groups in which they are most interested regardless of day and time. Others select study groups that are all on the same day of the week. Still others are limited by their schedule and list one course on one day and time and an alternate at the same day and time, etc.

The only restriction for selecting study groups is that a member cannot list the same course more than once (unless there are two sessions of the same course).

At the beginning of the lottery, the software assigns each member a random number. Then, the membership is divided into three groups: A, B, and C. For example, if there are 900 registrants, members assigned 1 to 299 are in group A, those assigned 300 to 599 are in group B, and those assigned 600 to 900 are in group C.

The lottery goes through multiple rounds in assigning courses. In the first round, the lottery assigns members in sequence of A, B, C, their first choice. If their first choice is not available (because the course is full), the lottery adds the member to the course waitlist and assigns their second choice instead. If the second choice is not available, the lottery also waitlists the member for their second choice and assigns their third choice instead, etc. (We call this “drilling down.”) The lottery only proceeds to the next member in the sequence after the current member has been assigned a study group. The process is repeated for the second member, third member, etc., until all members are “registered” for one course. (Let’s call this the “routine.”) It is possible (and it does happen) that a member is assigned no classes because she/he listed only one course which was full before the member’s turn in the first round.

To make the system as fair as possible, in the second round, the member sequence is reversed (C, B, A, so that the last members in the first round are first in this round). The lottery follows the routine. Members are assigned their second course (drilling down as necessary) until everyone who requested two or more courses receives a second course.

The lottery follows the same routine for the third round, except the sequence is B, then C & A together (so that those who have not been first yet are first in this round). Members are assigned their third course (drilling down as necessary) until everyone who has requested three courses has received a third course.

If a member lists two courses at the same time and gets into the first one, the second one is marked “not selected.” This leaves open seats, so the lottery runs through as many more rounds as needed to move any members from “waitlisted” to “registered.”

One additional condition is weighed in the lottery. If a course has two parts, those members who took the Part I AND who list Part II as their first choice when it is offered, are given preference over members who did not take Part I.

Whether a member has been an OLLI member for the first time or for many years does not matter. To increase your odds of getting the number of courses you desire, list up to six courses that you would consider taking. You might not get your first choice(s), but OLLI members frequently mention how much they enjoyed a course that was lower on their list.