Registration Day

Now that we’re getting ready to go back to classes, it’s a good time to make sure your schedule is finalized and ready to go. We may think that using U of I’s Banner system is a bit of a hassle, but it’s much simpler than the system students of the past had to use!

Students registering in the library, 1938

Students registering in the library, 1938

Registering for classes used to be a lengthy process condensed into a few hectic days, with one main Registration Day. Registration was the kickoff to the semester and to the school year ahead. As the editors of the 1925 Illio put it, “Throughout the year, big days loom up ahead, come and are gone. Registration starts the year” [1]

Early in the University’s history, students would register in different places based on their standing in the University. Most students registered in the Chapel and surrounding rooms of University Hall, the old Illini Union.Students had to obtain permission from the dean beforehand and fill out semester study cards using a printed class catalog. Registering was a machine with many moving parts; there were many set guidelines and required classes, but also many exceptions to the many rules. Payment for the semester and all student fees were due at the time of registration and members of the University’s business office were helpfully on hand to collect fees, much to the students’ chagrin [2].

Registration Day and, later, New Student Week, hasn't always had the best weather

Registration Day was known for its bad weather

By the late 1920s, the process had complicated considerably. Students now had multiple tickets and coupons that needed to be signed, filed, and followed. To accommodate the greater influx of students, students registered in the Library with up to twenty registration clerks per class [3]. Students came to expect that Registration Day would bring long lines, sore feet, and bad weather. Students joked that Fall Registration 1927 was “a complete failure without the traditional rain” [4].

By the 1940s, registration had become a multi-day affair, culminating in long lines at the Armory. Describing registration in 1949 to her parents, new student Patricia Webster Tabler wrote, “I just wanted to let you know that I existed thru registration today–4 hours of red tape. Anyway, I came out of it with the courses I wanted…” [5]. Students who worked registration were permitted to register early, an important perk for those wishing to take popular courses. She wrote to her family again two days later describing working amidst the crush of students, “Things really busy here now. Registration is one mad rush, and we are working really hard–I put in 9 1/2 hours today, and I didn’t go to bed until 2:00 last night” [6].


The dance card for the 1920 Registration Dance was modeled on the University’s registration directions booklet


Band leader Johnny Long signs autographs for U of I students in 1937. That year, the dance was so popular a second had to be scheduled.

Registration wasn’t a complete week of drudgery, luckily. Starting in the 1920s, the Student-Alumni Association sponsored a Registration Dance. The “Red Tape” dance was held on the evening of Registration Day to give the students a much-needed reprieve and to kick off the semester’s social calendar. During some years, the dance card distributed to guests was made to look like the U of I’s registration directions and forms! Each year, the dance committee booked a popular, high-profile band to entertain the students. Students enjoyed dancing the night away and getting autographs from the famous band members.

In 1958, the Illio staff described the mad dash of registration: “sighs of the confused, groans of the frustrated, chuckles of the satisfied….The armory is masqueraded with direction signs, snow fences, checking stations, instruction desks, cameras, cashiers and an endless number of students” [7]. Students joked that during the process they were “reduced to a number and a card,” after the school adopted IBM cards in the 1950s to simplify and streamline the registration process. Long lines could be expected at the armory for class registration and for the physical examination, where male students were examined before submitting their information for the draft or ROTC [8].

Instead of filling in classes, students wrote in the names of their dance partners

Instead of filling in classes, students wrote in the names of their dance partners

Part of the trouble of Registration was that it packed in so much into a short week; it began as students moved in.Registration combined all of the rough spots of the early part of the semester into one hectic week. In describing move-in day, students wrote, “All junk is thrown in the middle of our rooms as we rush to wait an hour for our registration cards. Advisers come first…Then comes the lines…Then the bookstores” [9]. Because students were registering right before classes began, getting books and i.d. cards ahead of time just wasn’t possible. The many necessary steps added grief.

Registration 1969

Registration 1969

By the 1970s, the stress and frustration were at an all time high. Freshman John Keyser remembered, “When I first entered the Armory I was overwhelmed…I couldn’t imagine how they could handle so many people…I was scared and confused and since I [was] a freshman I was totally lost…It took me four hours to register — and I still didn’t get what I wanted…All I saw before me was a blur of poeple…there were people everywhere. I was mad at everyone” [11]. The hassle of having to pay all fees on the spot was finally amended in the late 1970s [12]. The increasingly complicated and lengthy registration process continued until 1995, when students were finally able to register by computer using the “U of I Direct” program, in which 200 students could register online at the same time [13].


Illio 1961

Student guides were on hand in lifeguard chairs to direct confused and lost students.

[1] Illio 1925, p. 309.
[2] Directions for Registration, 1909. RS 15/1/806.
[3] Registration Procedures: Registration Organization 1928. RS 25/3/808.
[4] Illio 1928, p. 176.
[5] Tabler letter Sept. 15, 1949. RS 41/20/221, Box 1.
[6] Tabler letter Sept. 17, 1949. RS 41/20/221, Box 1.
[7] Illio 1958 p. 42.
[8] Illio 1959, p. 17.
[9] Illio 1962, p. 10.
[11] Illio 1973, p. 26.
[12] Illio 1979, p. 140.
[13] Illio 1995, p. 114-115.

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  • Craig Simpson

    Great story Caitlin.

    I remember in the 70’s that I figured out a system that worked for me. I volunteered to help at registration. In return the volunteers got to register first. Had to get up early but it was worth it to get all of my classes!

  • Paul Richert

    I remember well my first registration in the fall of 1966. At that time if you came to campus over the summer for a short orientation you could register early. I lived in Massachusetts at the time and did not realize it was worth an early trip to Illinois.
    I spent days trying to register. I would go see a history advisory upstairs in the Armory and put down the classes I wanted and they would approve them. I went down to the main floor of the Armory and discover half the classes were full and would have to start all over again with the advisory. It was very frustrating. I had intended to take ROTC but by the time my schedule for classes was set there was no ROTC class that did not conflict. I was out of luck.

    Of course I ended up getting a number 11 in the first Vietnam War draft lottery and was later drafted and then enlisted for three years. By then I had obtained a bachelors degree and a master’s degree at Illinois and was ready to be a librarian. I spent one year as a typist in the Army and two years working as a librarian in South Korea while being a low ranking enlisted soldier!

  • Norm Nesheim

    This story brings back memories of my freshman registration in 1958. Had to start at the engineering building (my major then) and then to the armory. Had to go back to Engineering and then to the armory again. I could not finish it in one day. Then had to fight the crowds to buy books.

  • Bob Klema

    My senior registration in 1969, it was raining of course, and I woke up late. I remember a class using a new computer called PLATO, very early computing and far from helping during registration. It was a long and arduous process to register in those days, who would believe how far we’ve come with our technology. Good years in Champaign, I’ll always remember them! Class of 1970.

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