College Swim Tests

The decline and fall (or dive) of the college swimming requirement.

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As educators and academics learn more about teaching and how best to run a college for the rapidly changing needs of the present generation, methods change.

One of the interesting things about colleges is that they all have the same purpose, yet many achieve their goals in unique ways.

Even though swim tests are decreasing in popularity, keep in mind that swimming is a very useful skill to have.

The college swim test is one debate that continues to divide colleges.

Can a college require a swim test for graduation?

Read on…you might be surprised.

What Is A College Swim Test?

A college swim test is a school-wide test for basic swimming proficiency. At schools that require them, students are typically asked to be able to swim a certain distance in order to graduate. While very few schools in the United States require them, some schools still have them as part of graduation requirements. No swimming means no diploma.

MIT has a very basic swim test: All students must swim 100 yards continuously in a pool. Bryn Mawr has a much more rigorous test: Students must swim continuously for ten minutes while demonstrating two different strokes. They also must be able to tread water and float motionlessly for a short period of time.

Why Do Swimming Requirements Exist?

College Swim Tests gained prominence after World War II when it was decided that certain physical skills should be taught to students, and college was the ideal place for them to learn. In addition to physical education requirements, the Red Cross especially pushed that basic swimming abilities should be taught to everyone.

The swim test began to decline in the 1970’s and by 1997, only 14% of colleges actually required swim tests. Nowadays, even schools that require swimming ability for graduation can waive the requirement if the student has a signed statement from the school’s health services.

Controversy Over Swimming Requirements

Over time, most schools have begun to recognize that forced swim tests or mandatory swimming ability requirements may unfairly discriminate against poor or disadvantaged students and students who do not have access to pools or other bodies of water. The infamous case of a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst drowning during a swim test marked the beginning of the end of college swim tests.

Even though swim tests are decreasing in popularity, keep in mind that swimming is a very useful skill to have. Additionally, many schools, instead, are requiring swimming lessons that can be taken in place of a swim test, which allows the student to learn to swim without having to worry about being at a certain level or not graduating because of an inability or fear of swimming.

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