College Before Google

As we were talking through college options, my daughter laughed and commented how I really don’t understand what college is like now. What?! I went to many years of college and grad school. I am the quintessential expert on this topic. Rolling her eyes she carried on through her college checklist and I realized as we clicked through that she was absolutely right. My college world looked completely different from what she will experience next year.

College in the 90’s

When I think back to college, I can still see the beds up on cinder blocks, with the stereo, CDs and occasional mixed tape in the corner. There is the telephone on my desk complete with the answering machine always personalized with a silly jingle of the month, and my Walkman waiting for my next jog. I didn’t own a computer and I barely had an email address. My part-time job at the school library consisted of checking out microfilm to students doing research papers. They would wind the film onto these machines then scan through pages and pages of material until they found the detail they needed for their paper. We did not have Google, or any source at our fingertips back then.

Guess what else wasn’t permanently attached to my hand during my college years? A cell phone. Back then if someone wanted to reach me they left a message on my answering machine, or a note on my door. I exchanged regular phone calls and handwritten letters with faraway friends.

College Now

No answering machine. No stereo. A computer on each desk and cell phones in hand. Fewer books because many are online and trips to the library may not be for research as much as a quiet place to get work done. There’s no bulletin boards on the doors with a pen hanging from a string, or anxiety over missed calls from your latest crush. Now friends reach you via text or social media. Your parents don’t have to wait for you to check-in (although they hope you will-please!) because they can see where you are on the family app that shows everyone’s location at all times.

Technology and Social Media- Google Anyone? 

Technology and social media dominate the college lifestyle in a way that didn’t even exist yet when current parents of high schoolers were college students. Students now often meet their roommates online long before move-in day. Students can zoom or Facetime to see their future roommates in real time. Announcements from the school and the dorm are posted online either via email, social media, or both. In our day we received a letter in the mail or a phone call. When our kids have a cancelled class they will likely receive a text before they ever get out of bed. We got up, dressed and trekked to campus through ten feet of snow only to find a note taped to the door that our professor wouldn’t make it in that day.

Modern education is also a few clicks closer than in the 90s, or last century as my kids say. Today students have multiple technological gadgets for easy access to learning and research. We didn’t have spelling and grammar check, and our teachers didn’t have an easy way to track if we had plagiarized a paper. Now kids have all kinds of apps to make sure that their papers are grammatically perfect and satisfactorily original.

The Internet Back Then 

In the early 90s, not many homes had access to the internet, and even if they did, it was dial up and took forever to connect. That screeching sound of a computer connecting to the internet still makes me cringe. I chose the quiet of the books at the library over that headache every time. Even if it did connect it took several minutes for each page to load. If you were lucky your family had one bulky desktop computer in your home that everyone shared. And forget about getting the printer to work. Back then we had to handwrite our papers or type them and turn them in to the teacher during class, or in their box on campus. How many of us remember sliding a paper in minutes before the deadline?

Now kids email their papers to their teachers or submit them online. Students can also watch recorded lectures if they accidentally sleep in. Professors are rated online. No more going to the last day of class for the sole purpose of getting your last paper back and completing a survey ready for the scantron machine. Now from the comfort of your phone you can check your grades and fill out that survey. Why not do it from your beach chair?

Our Kids Are Even More Stressed Than We Were

Our kids also have different things to worry about than we did back then. The cost of college has increased significantly since the 1990s. Full-time undergraduate students in 2019-2020 in public two-year, public four-year, and private four-year colleges paid at least 20% more than 10 years ago and more than double from 20 years ago.

In addition, it is much harder to get into college in the first place. Across the country there are lower acceptance rates. More high school seniors than ever before plan to attend college. The competition for spots at premier colleges is more selective than ever. Although the competition is fiercer than ever for elite colleges, the good news is that a vast majority of students who apply to college will be admitted somewhere that is a good fit for them.

On the admissions front, the Common Application is now used by over 500 universities nationwide. This increases the ease of the application process by allowing students to apply to multiple schools at the same time using one form. There is also a higher amount of scholarships and financial aid. All colleges accept either the ACT or SAT now and many are test optional, or don’t consider test scores at all, especially after the pandemic.

My Hope For My Kids

So, all in all, while our kids may have Google at their fingertips and easier access to their teachers and class assignments, they also have the increased pressure that comes from social media, hyper-competitive college admissions and increasing costs of school as well as room and board.

Despite the different landscape, I want my daughter to find some of the same things I did on my college adventure. I pray she discovers friendships that last a lifetime, a multitude of travels and immersion in new cultures, and the confidence to know that she can overcome and grow through any obstacles life may throw in her path. My dream is that she finds a great, wide world and that she makes her corner of it a more beautiful place. I also hope she visits her old mom who still has her CD collection in the garage.



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