My, how times have changed! As my two kids are nearing the end of their college years, I’ve been reflecting on how their lives and college experiences have been so different from mine. From technology, to dorm life, to cafeteria food, to opportunities, it has all taken a 180-degree turn! Although I’m envious of those great advantages my kids enjoy today, I wish they could go back to the ‘80s to see what college life was like back then and to appreciate what they have now!

Let’s compare, shall we?Students walking on campus

Applying to colleges

Admission applications were either typed or handwritten and mailed back to the college(s) we were interested in. It didn’t seem like we applied to as many colleges as students do these days, partly because we didn’t have college fairs or go on many college visits. We applied to colleges that we were familiar with, not pushing the boundaries too much. Nowadays, applications are filled out online and submitted electronically. Students are broadening their horizons and applying to more colleges than we could even think of. Today’s students are also more selective about which college they choose and are basing their decisions on financial aid and “extras” that the colleges are offering to them, which is sort of a “what can you do for me?” mentality.

Dorm life

After mailing in our housing contract, we’d hope and pray that we’d be placed in a decent dorm with a tolerable roommate. Now, housing forms are submitted online along with a roommate compatibility form to help match you with someone with similar interests. Once we matched with a roommate, we would have to contact them via postal mail or make a call on the family phone. Now social media allows you to stalk your new roommate and see photos of not only your roommate but their friends and family as well. You know more about your roommate before you step on campus than we did after an entire school year of living with them!

Dorms were nothing to brag about: typically, a two-person room with a community bathroom. We’d have to trek down to the basement, pockets full of quarters, to do our laundry. We’d bring our textbooks with us, as we knew it was going to be a couple of hours before we surfaced again! Now laundry fees are paid ahead of time so no quarters are needed, and you punch in your cell phone number so you’ll receive a text letting you know that your load has finished!

Cafeteria food

There are so many more choices in the student dining halls than there were in the past. When I was in college, if we didn’t like the few selections that were being offered, we could opt for cereal or cold cuts. The options students have nowadays are almost unlimited.  Additionally, some meal plans allow you to eat as many meals as you want in a day!  When I went to school, we received around 15 punches per week, so we had to be selective about which meals we ate in the cafeteria so we’d have enough to last the entire week.

Papers and research

We didn’t have laptops or iPads to bring to class, and papers were typed on a typewriter or word processor that remained in our dorm rooms. If you didn’t get your paper printed out before the library closed at night, then you had to hurry in there in the morning to get it printed so you could turn it in during your class. Communication was all via class lectures or the syllabuses; we didn’t have a student portal or Blackboard to use.

The number of papers required may not have changed over the years, but the data collection process sure has! We had to physically go to the library, search through microfiche, photocopy articles (at 10 cents per copy), and then compile the information into a masterpiece! Students now have a multitude of search engines that can help them retrieve information without leaving their dorm rooms. Furthermore, many instructors will now record their class presentations so students can watch them at a later time.

Study Abroad and Internships:

Study Abroad options were not very common in my day. I didn’t know a single high school classmate or college friend that studied in any other country. Now there are many colleges that strongly push students to take advantage of this opportunity. Colleges now have so many more connections with universities in other countries and the options for where to travel just keep getting broader.

It seems like there are more experiential things required for majors these days, too. When I was in college, only business majors did internships, but now a lot of programs require them. The experiences that student are armed with when they receive their diplomas help them enter the workplace with so much more knowledge and confidence than ever before!


Although separation from family members is still an obstacle for many college students, it seems to be a bit easier to cope with these days. When I moved off to college, my parents helped me move in and then I said my goodbyes to them in the dorm parking. It was the last I’d see of them for a month or so, until I was fortunate enough to catch a ride back home with a high school friend. I could call them on the phone, but it cost money for each minute spent with them on the other end…something my dad was not too keen on! We wrote a lot of letters and would anxiously anticipate a reply in our mailboxes. Now there are unlimited calling plans so you can text, call, or facetime your loved ones whenever you wish. It’s like they’re right there with you!

Although I survived my college years, I wouldn’t change a thing about my kids’ experience. They’ve been exposed to so much more than I could’ve ever dreamt of. I just feel like they’re ready to face the world head on!