Why Does MIT Make Students Pass A Swim Test?

Why Does MIT Make Students Pass A Swim Test

Not many people are aware that, when it comes to certain high-ranking colleges in the United States, enrolled students must pass a swimming test in order to graduate. One of these colleges is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is known for its intense and world-famous programs in mathematics and the sciences. So, why does a science and math-based school like MIT want its students to pass a swim test? Read on below to find out.

Why Do MIT Students Need to Take a Swim Test?

MIT requires students to pass a swim test to increase student opportunities, gather interest in water sports, and provide graduates with important life skills. Below, we will explore the history of the MIT swim test, as well as potential seasons for its requirement.

The MIT Swim Test

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a prestigious university located alongside the Charles River in Cambridge, MA, is one of the few colleges that still requires that students pass a swim test before graduating. MIT, often mistaken for an Ivy League school due to its selectiveness and rigorous academic programs, is best known for STEM course offerings.

Hosted in the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center pool, the MIT swim test consists of 100 yards of continuous swimming. This now non-traditional graduation requirement gathers mixed reviews from students, with some finding the swimming test a nuisance standing between themselves and graduation. However, many other students find the test enjoyable once they take it and even an endearing college tradition.

Most MIT students take and pass the test as freshmen, almost immediately after arriving on campus. Others, however, wait until later in their collegiate careers to tackle the task. All students find that they will not graduate until the test is completed.


What Are the Rules of the MIT Swim Test?

So, what are the rules of the MIT swim test? For the test, the rules are pretty simple: there is no time requirement, no resting, and no backstroke until the last of the three required laps. Other than the backstroke rule, students are allowed to swim using whatever type of stroke they might choose.

Although passing the swim test is a requirement before receiving an MIT diploma, students unwilling to take the test or unable to pass the test can instead take a six-week swimming course to fulfill the requirement. However students decide to approach the swim test, this unique requirement remains part of MIT’s core curriculum.

History of the Swim Test

A popular rumor amongst people curious about the MIT swim test’s origins is that a donor’s child drowned, leading the donor to offer a significant amount of money to the school on the condition that a swim test become part of MIT’s core curriculum. However, this rumor is an unfounded attempt at an explanation. In fact, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell, who also require similar tests, each have nearly identical rumors circulating their campuses and beyond regarding the births of their tests.

While the story of a tragic drowning inspiring the test may be unfounded, there may be some credence behind the idea that the World Wars encouraged colleges to enact swimming requirements, as many of the schools that have had the swim test requirement instated the rule in the early 20th century. Surprisingly, in the 1970s, nearly 42% of colleges required a test. This number dwindled quickly and dramatically, and there are now less than a dozen schools that still require it. The colleges that still have a swimming requirement include MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore, as well as some military schools.

Some universities held onto the swim test tradition for a while, only eliminating it fairly recently, such as the University of Notre Dame (until 2014) and the University of Chicago (until 2012). Of the schools still requiring swim tests, three are Ivy League schools (Cornell, Harvard, and Dartmouth), and all have rigorous academic programs. MIT’s swimming test was instituted in 1947 and persists to this day.


Reasoning Behind the Swim Test

MIT requires students to pass a swim test because of swimming’s importance as a life skill. In the United States, the fifth leader of accidental deaths is death related to drowning. MIT officials cite research that finds that, of these drownings, the majority happen when parents or other nearby rescuers are not able to swim. The school believes that part of teaching their students to survive means teaching them how to swim, both so they can save themselves from drowning and so they can potentially save others.

Last year, 3,465 international students were enrolled at MIT, another compelling reason for the institute to keep the swim test requirement. Physical education courses, and swimming courses in particular, were not accessible to many of these international students before they came to MIT. MIT also finds that the requirement encourages students to test the waters, quite literally, of other aquatic sports at the school.

Essentially, the swim test tradition has continued at MIT for safety and learning purposes. As universities were forced to cease in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, MIT made allowances for seniors who had not yet completed the requirement. These seniors didn’t get to skip out on the swim test, but instead of taking the physical test, they were allowed to participate in an online American Red Cross course on water safety.


Why must you pass a swimming test at MIT?

MIT requires all students to pass a swim test to keep students safe during their time at MIT and beyond. Swimming is an important life skill, and MIT instituted and continues to require passing a swim test as part of creating well-rounded graduates. MIT also hopes the swim test will increase student interest in water sports and create opportunities for international students that might otherwise not have the interest or chance to learn about swimming.

Does MIT require you to pass a swim test?

Yes, MIT requires all graduates to pass a swim test before receiving their diplomas. The MIT swim test is administered in the Z-Center, typically to freshman students, and requires three laps, or 100 yards, of continuous swimming. There is no time requirement for students taking the MIT swim test. Allowances are made to take a course in place of the exam, and during the pandemic, an online course option was provided for MIT seniors.

What happens if you fail the MIT swim test?

Students who fail the MIT swim test or who elect not to take it must fulfill the requirement through a six-week beginner swim class. Many MIT students have figured this out the hard way, putting the requirement off until their senior year and then scrambling to complete the test. However, most students take the test and complete the requirement during their freshman orientation. Students will not graduate or receive their diplomas without fulfilling the swim test requirement.