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Penn State History Lessons: What Scheduling Looked Like Back In The Day

Scheduling season is one of the most stressful times of the semester at Penn State. Everyone has their dream schedule picked out, but that dream can be gone with the blink of an eye, especially if you have a late registration time.

Penn State students nowadays know the drill: log onto eLion at 11:55, type in the exact course numbers of the desired classes, and then wait. The second the clock strikes midnight, they press “Add courses to schedule,” and pray they aren’t taken to a page with an angry red box saying the courses they requested are full. Those five minutes are high stakes, but definitely yield high rewards.

But imagine, for a moment, if scheduling took longer than five minutes. Imagine if you weren’t sitting in your dorm room or on your sofa, but instead waiting in line in Rec Hall or the HUB. Imagine if instead of screenshotting your schedule on your phone, you had one little yellow sheet of paper with your classes listed. Well, some Penn Staters don’t have to imagine those circumstances — chiefly because they endured them.

Before the internet was readily available to all students, scheduling looked a lot different than it does today. From 1940 to 1969, registering for classes involved going to a building and signing up for courses in person. It also involved a ton of paperwork. For example, here is a list of the contents of a registration packet from 1952:

  1. A Permanent Home Address Card: The student listed their permanent mailing address, and where they claimed residency.
  2. A card entitled “Statistical Information”: This was for male undergraduate students only, as it detailed Selective Service Information.
  3. A News Bureau Card: This piece of paper asked for the student’s campus living information, as well as their parents’ information.
  4. A Personnel Card: Similar to the News Bureau Card, this card asked for which type of housing the student planned on living in.
  5. A Religious Preference Card: This card was totally voluntary, and just asked what religion, if any the student professed. It also asked if the student participated in any campus religious groups.
  6. A Diploma Card: This one was only for seniors, so the University could prepare for the big day at the end of the semester.

All of these cards, if we’re being honest, asked for very similar information. So while it might be annoying that you have to enter your password every time you try to add a course on eLion, at least you aren’t writing your student ID number till your hand cramps.

Once a student finished these forms, the University assigned each student a time to report at the registration site. In 1952, it was Rec Hall. If you were a poor soul whose name started with A, you were looking at a nice and early 8 a.m. start time.

Once the students got to Rec Hall, the real chaos began. They had to weave through an intricate pattern of stations to ensure their class schedule for the upcoming semester. First, each student had to find each course’s academic department for which they wanted to register. Assuming there were still spots in each class, the student would pick up two slips, a pink one and a white one. The student then kept those slips until they were done registering for classes, when they were taken by an administrator called a “checker.”

But wait, that’s not the end! After each student received their registration, they had to be issued a student card with their photo. Each student had to get an ID every single year. Here’s an example of what a student card looked like in 1955:

Student ID

If you made it out of Rec Hall alive, you were good to go!

Now, if all of this work sounds like a lot for the students, it was even worse for the administrators. Everyone in the Registrar’s Office was swamped with paperwork at the beginning of each semester, and a lot of the information was simply unnecessary to receive over and over again. In 1961, some people at the Registrar’s Office tried to condense the process, hoping to make it easier for everyone. Associate Registrar R. M. Koser wrote: “In order to facilitate the registration of students for winter and spring terms, we plan to require that the personnel card, the religious preference card and the news bureau card be filled out only by the new students enrolling for those terms. We fell that we must reduce the number of cards in the registration deck for as many students as possible.” 

Luckily, the Registrar’s Office didn’t have to wait long for changes to the system. In 1970, course registration extended its platform to include telephone enrollment. So instead of dealing with throngs of students during the day, registrar officers were able to man the phone lines instead. Additionally, the registrar’s office started offering advanced registration in the ’70s. For students who were on top of their scheduling game, they could meet with their advisors and fill out their entire schedule before the Registrar’s Office was thinking about scheduling.

No matter what, it’s pretty clear that eLion is more convenient than any of its predecessors. So as you’re debating whether to make any last-minute changes to your schedule before the Add/Drop deadline tonight, just be thankful you can do so from the comfort of your own home, not Rec Hall.

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About the Author

Anna Foley

Anna is a senior majoring in Communication Arts & Sciences and Spanish with a minor in Theatre. Yes, she went to Spain. Follow her half-funny thoughts @exfoleyator and send her chain emails at [email protected]


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