Registration by Walkie-Talkie

In the days before virtual enrollment, getting your preferred classes required creativity and collaboration.

1980s black and white photo of students waiting in line at a table to register for classes

Despite snowstorms, sprained ankles, frostbite, and sweaty scrambles for that perfect schedule, many Badgers remember registration day fondly. UW Archives S00160

In 2021, a sleepy student shuts off the alarm, rolls over in bed, clicks “Enroll” on a virtual cart of courses, and dozes off again. Somewhere in the distance, a seasoned alum scoffs — these kids don’t know how easy they have it.

If there’s one student experience that distinguishes modern Badgers from their predecessors, it’s class registration. Today, students enroll with the ease of an online shopping spree; a generation ago, they latched themselves to landlines and relied on touch-tone dialing to secure their spots in their required courses. And before that, students woke early, laced up their running shoes, and devised elaborate plans for the mad dash across campus for in-person registration, an experience that these hardened veterans wear as a badge of honor.

Many memories of in-person class registration start in the Stock Pavilion, where crowds of students trampled straw-covered floors to pick up paperwork before being set loose to fill their schedules.

“The moment of pure culture shock was being immersed in the collective ‘MOOOOOOOOO’ that erupted from the students as we were released from the building en masse,” says Mary Jane Carlson Thurau ’90, a transfer student from California, about her first registration experience.

Some students had the process down to a science, orchestrating maneuvers that included cross-campus tag teams and walkie-talkies. Others sprinted frantically between buildings as even the best-laid plans were foiled while classes filled.

“After a harrowing and exhausting couple of hours, the survivors would straggle back to the dorms and collapse in the common area,” Tyler Schultz ’92 recalls. “We compared our battle stories and how many dreaded waitlist classes we each got.”

Despite days marred by snowstorms, sprained ankles, frostbite, sweaty scrambles for that perfect schedule, and the heartbreak of settling for a 7:30 a.m. lecture, many Badgers still remember registration day fondly.

“To tell the truth, I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything,” Renée Aronov Miller ’62 says. “The students today probably don’t have our staying ability, or the ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that we had. Everything seems easier unless the Wi-Fi goes down!”

Published in the Fall 2021 issue

Tags: Campus history, class, Student life


  • RMH August 26, 2022

    Love the article. I had a strategy to avoid 7:45 am classes back in the 60’s. I registered for “Greek and Latin Medical Terms”, a one credit class only offered at 7:45 am in order to assure I would not be available for labs or study groups at 7:45 am, as they tried to fill these first. Then, I dropped the course the next week once my schedule was in place. Looking back, the effort and strategy to register really required planning. 🙂

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published.