Writer’s Workshop: Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here (Registering For Classes)

Ah, this prompt again:

Share a college memory.

I’ve talked about my years at Northwestern University before (here and here). I think I’ll dip into that well again.

At the end of Freshman Orientation Week comes the day that all us newly-minted students find out, after a week of being told that we’re special and that the university really cares about us, just what a bitch college life can be. Of course, I’m talking about registering for classes.

In my case, I knew I was cursed from the start, because the sheet the university gave us with the schedule for registration told me that I would be among the last group of freshmen that would be registering. My faculty advisor, Brother Juniper, told me when I was setting up my schedule that I should plan on at least three alternatives for each of the classes I was to take, because I could count on not getting many of the classes I had selected. Accordingly, I chose four classes I wanted to take and a dozen alternates that I could live with. Thus prepared, I toddled off to get them.

Everything started out smoothly, and soon I had two of the four classes I wanted. Psychology was full, but they still had plenty of seats in Sociology, so I was down one alternate class. I was thinking, hey, this shit’s easy and walked over to the table for Intro Studies, a set of classes of which every freshman was required to take two. Needless to say, I didn’t get the class I wanted, or any of the Intro Studies classes, all of which had been snapped up by my fellow classmates. No problem, I thought; I still had eleven alternatives I hadn’t used yet.

Fifteen minutes later, I had exhausted all of those alternatives and was reduced to stopping at tables to see if they had anything at all. If they had a class, it conflicted with my schedule, but in most cases, the answer was “sorry.” Finally, I found an Art Appreciation class, the last opening in that class, added that card to my stack, and handed my cards in.

I went home and read the description of the class, and recoiled in horror when I saw that the only requirement for the class was “sophomore status.” I had inadvertently signed up for a class I shouldn’t have. What was I going to do? This was in the days when I thought registration was final, carved in stone, and once everything was set, it would take an act of Congress, or at least the intervention of the Board of Trustees, to change. I was stuck with it. I just knew the Prerequisite Police were going to find me and drag me off to the gas chamber.

I learned later that about ten percent of the people taking the class were freshmen (I knew this because they had registered with me), and there was no such thing as the Prerequisite Police. The class ended up being unintentionally funny: the professor who taught it was a magnificent painter, but had been breathing turpentine fumes a little too long, and her teaching technique was to turn on a slide projector and spend fifty minutes talking to the screen, blissfully unaware of anything else going on in the lecture hall. One day a large collie with approximately 650 tags on her collar wandered in and spent most of the period walking around the room, collar jingling loudly, until her owner came and got her. The professor droned on through all of it. I got a C in the class, not the best grade, but it was enough to pass.

28 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here (Registering For Classes)

  1. Ahhh this brings back memories of my first time at university..it took 12 hrs to register, get all my classes and have my picture taken. It was a long, long day. I remember my biology prof. Really getting into the mating habits of the drangonfly. It was…..very uncomfortable.

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      1. Yeah. I don’t know what that means. We had course catalogs and used touch-tone phones to register, but my freshman year, there were actual lists in the bursar’s office. I definitely think the internet is much more effective.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Twelve hours? Oy gevalt…

      I took a literature class once where the professor (a woman, incidentally) seemed a little too fond of books about pre-pubescent girls. Awkward….

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  2. I remember going to collect my cards too. I think I managed to get all my classes, but I only stayed for one year and then I moved on to a Medical Assisting training. My daughter only had to go online at a certain time and pick her classes. Ah, the internet. She still didn’t always get every class she wanted but at least she didn’t have the standing in line part.

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  3. I entered University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 14 semester hours from a 5 on the AP BC Calculus exam and testing out of Rhetoric 101 AKA bonehead English. Had no trouble getting into CHEM 101 and PHYCS 101. But I had to take a chem lab that ended at 5pm every Friday, and a physics 101 class that met at 8am 5 days a week. With music theory and the first computer programming course CS 101 (gotta love that IBM 29 keypunch, Fortran IV and PL/I), I had 17 semester hours.

    Then it was a matter of deciding which classes I would get an A in and which would get a bit less effort. I later discovered I needed a minimum 4 hours of sleep to perform effectively in finals, some of which scheduled out to two in the same day.

    I managed to make the dean’s list that first semester. I didn’t make it again until my last undergrad semester as an EE major, three years later.

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    1. 8 AM classes were pretty much out of the question for me, especially on days when I had to cope with the Wil-Bus to get me to Linden Avenue. On the upside, it was only two or three stops on the Evanston train to get to class. Most mornings I could catch a ride with Mom and Tex, who would drop me off at Green Bay and Emerson and I’d walk from there. I’d get to school at about 8:20 then…

      I think if I had worked a little harder on my typing the 029 wouldn’t have been quite so intimidating. Problem was, one finger check and you had to start all over.

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  4. Ah, I remember those days of waiting to find out what alphabetical order I’d be registering in–since they mixed up it every year. If I was among the first two groups, it was good; if in the bottom, not so much. I don’t think they do that anymore. Enrollment is online nowadays.

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  5. Sounds like a bit of a madhouse. No doubt, things are much easier now, online. Of course, I clicked the “Brother Juniper” link. Quite the mental image. 🙂 Glad to know there wasn’t any “Prerequisite Police” and you were able to stay in that class with the quirky prof.

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  6. Registering for classes was so stressful! I definitely had a few professors who might have dabbled in those same terpentine fumes!

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  7. John,

    What a fun story! I remember those days of registering for class. The long lines were crazy. I hated it and I always made sure to do early registration every semester after that. 🙂

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  8. Ah, the old collect-cards-and-stand-in-several-long-lines days. I eventually realized that it was best to wait about a week for all the dust to settle.
    Congratulations on passing Art Appreciation 🙂

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    1. I chose to take the Latin course to finish my language requirement, and it was basically a repeat of the previous year in high school. All I can think in your case is that they mustn’t have done much in first year…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If I remember correctly, the first year was learning the French word vs the English translation. So, I just memorized everything and got through the exam, somehow. I was also taking my 3rd year of Spanish so that helped.

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        1. No doubt there are similarities between French and Spanish, since both have their roots in Latin. And, yes, first year anything is building vocabulary and learning the rules (cases of nouns, conjugations of verbs, etc.) and in the case of a spoken language (which Latin isn’t, by and large) how to pronounce things. Still, that’s pretty remarkable.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s a cool story. I don’t think that was a thing, the prereq police. There were classes you had to have prior departmental approval though…
    Now, I bet the internet starts screaming at you and beeping if you try! LOL

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