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25 Things That Were Different When I Was in College

With all the talk about college this time of year, I started remembering what it was like a long, long time ago when I was a college student.

I don’t want to sound like one of those annoying old people (back in MY day…), but it got me thinking about all the things I didn’t have way back in the prehistoric years of the early 1980’s. You remember – when library books were essential to studying, when computers were hardly personal, when listening to music on your Walkman was only as reliable as the quality of your cassette tape and the batteries that powered it.

going to college, college in the 80's, typewriters, personal computers, college applications, a day in the life of a college student, the 80's, midlife, midlife women

So here’s a typical day in the life of me (and probably you, too), back when college applications were filled out on paper. The things that I didn’t have are in parentheses.

  • Wake up for class to a clock radio (cell phone).
  • Shower and blow dry my hair (“product”).  Get dressed and walk to campus.
  • Wait for friend to meet me for breakfast – she’s late (texting).
  •  Buy a newspaper (laptop, iPad, cell phone, etc etc). Actually read the articles from start to finish.
  • Get to the dining commons, where I use my cash (convenience points cards, ATM swipe, student ID for EVERYTHING) to buy a cup of coffee (soy latte, mocha grande, iced blended, chai latte, etc, etc).
  • My friend still isn’t there, so I call her on a pay phone (cell phone).
  •  We make plans to go see The Big Chill that weekend at the movie theater (VCR, DVR, DVD, Netflix, online streaming, YouTube)
  • During class, I take notes and listen, bored half the time, but with no other choice (smartphone, texting, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc).
  • Decide to write a letter to one of my friends at another school (see above, plus instant messaging).  Make a note to buy a book of stamps (.15 cents to mail a first class letter in 1980).
  • After class, I head to the bookstore to pick up a book for a class (personal computer, Amazon, Chegg, Kindle).
  • After I finish my classes for the day, I head to work, where I make $3.10 an hour selling shoes.
  •  I’m not allowed to use the business phone for personal calls, so I have no idea what the plans are for that evening.  Have to wait until I get home to find out what’s going on (all social media plus cell phone).
  • I stop by the local camera shop to pick up prints of a roll of film I had developed (digital camera, digital photos).
  • When I get home, my roommates have left me a note with a couple of messages on it (voice mail, cell phone, answering machines).
  • I consider watching a little TV, but it’s late afternoon and there’s not much on the 5 channels we actually get in our apartment, since we can’t afford cable (Hulu, Apple TV, Youtube).
  • Break open a Tab (Diet Coke made it’s debut in 1982) and put an album on the stereo (iPod, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Youtube).
  • When my roommate gets home we debate having either Top Ramen or Domino’s pizza for dinner (some things never change).
  • I have a few hours until its time to go out with my friends, so I start to write the final draft of a paper for one of my classes.  I drag out the Smith Corona – electric – that was my  high school graduation gift (personal computer).
  • I get out the white out in case I make any errors, and the dictionary to check that I’m spelling words correctly (spellcheck,
  • There are a few facts that I’m not sure are right, so I have to wait until I get to the library the next day to research them (the entire world wide web).
  •  When I finish the paper, I’ll take it to the copy center to have a copy made for my professor, and I’ll hand in the paper in class the following week (personal printer and copier, email).
  • I dress to go out, dismayed to see panti-lines under my Calvin Klein jeans (Spanx, thongs, boyshorts).  Change into different jeans, feel better.
  • After making dozens of phone calls (social media, texting), finally have a plan for the evening, so we head out, buy some beer, and go to a party (this will never, ever change!).
  •  Later that night I have a headache and I can’t sleep, so I take some Tylenol and hope it will help (Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Motrin PM).
  • As I drift off I wonder if the cute boy who I gave my phone number lost the matchbook I had written it on (cell phone).
Did I forget anything?

Sharon Greenthal

Sharon's blog, Empty House Full Mind, focuses on observations of the world from the midlife empty nest. Sharon is the Young Adults Expert on Sharon writes for the Huffington Post and Purple Clover. Sharon is the mother of two grown children - a daughter, 26 and a son, 24. She lives in Long Beach, CA with her husband and their perfect dog, Lambeau. Instagram: sharongreenthal

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Georgia Mellie Justad

Tuesday 25th of March 2014

The worst was having to share a hall pay phone with twenty other gals on your dorm floor. So much for privacy!

Lucia Paul

Monday 24th of March 2014

Typewriters! Oh the conundrum of using whiteout or the more sophisticated powdery white correction ribbon. And Tab...thanks for a trip down college memory lane. Love's Fresh Lemon was key too, and now extinct (I think).

Jennifer Wagner

Monday 24th of March 2014

From just being a few years older than you, I didn't even have an ATM card yet in college and cable TV wasn't even an option. The good old days.


Monday 24th of March 2014

Wow, now I REALLY feel old! Had to type (or get my boyfriend to type them for me!) all my papers on that nasty onionskin paper. Carbon copies, in case the prof or TA lost them. One of my college roommates was a computer science major. He used to bring home boxes of those punch cards. Anyone else remember those, or am I the only dinosaur out there? Fun post! These kids today--so many things to make life both easier and more complicated.

Anne Parris

Monday 24th of March 2014

My university built a big new library in the 90s. I wonder if anyone uses it now!

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