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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