A traditional rite of passage for University of Maryland students--spending hours to register for classes--went the way of fraternity hazing and freshman beer blasts this week when it fell victim to reform. Few are mourning the victim, however.

The formerly nerve-racking process was a model of order and organization Monday at the 35,000-student campus, thanks to more than $600,000 worth of new computer equipment. Registration, which continues this week, is being held for students who didn't complete preregistration last spring or who wanted to change classes.

Reliance on the computer system meant that, at the end of the day, there was no blizzard of discarded forms on the floor of Reckford Armory, scene of past semesters' registration frenzy. Instead of dozens of lines, there were two. And instead of running from table to table to get each form stamped and checked as many as three times for enrolling in just one class, students waited only 20 to 30 minutes in one line.

At the end of that line, administrators at 35 computer terminals helped students work out their entire class schedules in what officials said was an average of four minutes.

New students--oblivious to the change--complained about the long lines, but registration veterans seemed awestruck.

"The last time I was here this place was a zoo," said Darren Rittenhouse, 19, a junior electrical engineering major who said he spent 2 1/2 hours last year running from one building to another to get the classes he needed. On Monday, Rittenhouse arranged his entire schedule in less than 45 minutes.

"The sad thing is that the ones who start out this way will never know what it was like," said William C. Spann, director of records and registration, with a tinge of nostalgia. "In a way it's a shame. It was like a badge of honor to go through it."

Previously, registration forms were completed by hand, with the information entered into a computer memory several weeks later.

Spann said the new system is not only more convenient for the students, but also gives administrators greater control over the process. By registering for all their classes at once, students are prevented from signing up for more credits than they would actually take or from signing up for more than one section of a class. Students wise to the system have used those tricks to make sure they could get the schedule they wanted, Spann said.

The system also provides instant data. "It was difficult for us in the past because after the students finished registering we still had days of work to figure out how many students we had," Spann said. "Now when we leave, we have the enrollment information to give to the faculty immediately."

Most major universities are used to registering their students by computer, one official observed. The new system has been in the planning stages for years, Spann said, but money was budgeted only last year. According to Spann, the big holdup in implementing the system was obtaining the funds needed to buy the new equipment.

The new main computer cost nearly $600,000 and each of the terminals $1,450. Chris Granger, director of the university's administrative computer center, said the system will also be used for general administrative needs.

Even bigger changes are planned. Barbara Riggs, assistant records and registration director, said the university hopes to end mass registration entirely. Students will be able to begin registering for spring classes by appointment beginning in October.

Still, not every student going through the new process was impressed. Joanna Richter, 21, a junior pre-business major who transferred from Prince George's Community College, said she was unaccustomed to such long lines. And, she noted, the business administration classes she needed were filled to capacity.