The horrors of in-person course registration

Registration at UBC isn’t what it used to be. And that’s a good thing.

Crisp fall days, freshly sharpened pencils, and… waiting in line? For those at UBC before the mid‑80s, the words “back to school” likely conjure memories of in-person course registration. Variously described as “a horror,” “nightmarish,” and “a test of endurance,” the process involved rushing around campus and standing in a series of lines in order to gain entry to one’s desired courses.

“At UBC, as in the army, it’s ‘Hurry up and wait,’” complained the Ubyssey in 1959. “The system brings ulcers.”

Ever resourceful, students schemed to beat the queues. Some planned with military precision their route to collect the punched cards signifying entrance to each course, strategically weighing the distance between registration locations against the popularity of each desired class, then running from building to building in a cloud of anxiety.

To claim prime spots in line, others simply showed up at 6:00 AM. A student could also licitly skip the lines, according to the Ubyssey in 1963, if she were pregnant or a “girl who faints in lineups.”

Was every so‑called girlish swoon 100 per cent authentic? It’s doubtful: a little creativity was useful for victory at the registration desks. Allegedly, one student donned overalls and pretended to be a maintenance worker; another told guards he was a professor manning the desk; a third flashed a printed press badge and claimed to be a reporter. Another student, hobbling pitifully on crutches to the front of a line, made a miraculous recovery the moment he’d completed his paperwork, striding away sans crutches.

Registration even inspired tortured poetry: “My feet ache / o god, how they ache . . . I hate having to number myself like an / i.b.m. machine / it’s inhuman . . . now look here professors, why do you have / to go on lunch just when I get to the front of the line?”

The moans, ulcers, and aching feet eventually joined the annals of history. By 1987, students could register by telephone, and, by 2001, online. Today’s students still rush to nab coveted spots in courses, but they do so with one click – at home, in pyjamas, tea in hand, no fainting required.