Obligatory Swim Test Lore:
The MIT Swim Test was created in the 1940s after a high volume of drowning-related deaths in World War I. It’s been around since then, and despite many non-swimmers’ grievances, the test will continue for the foreseeable future.
The idea of the test is that if you ever fall into the Charles River that borders MIT campus, you can swim to one of the shores. The river is 200 yards wide, so you would need to swim 100 yards. That’s the or .09144 km, whatever that means…what even is a kilometer? You are required to swim 4 laps in the pool without stopping, with 3 exclusively facedown and the last one optionally faceup. You also get a t-shirt for showing up!
In 2020, when the world shut down and MIT went virtual, the swim test went virtual as well. If you were a Senior that hadn’t completed the swim requirement yet, you could take a 4 hour course in substitution for the swim test. This is the only instance I could find of the swim test not being required.
If you take the PE Courses of Fencing, Archery, Sailing, and Pistol/Rifle, you can get an Official However, honorary Pirating Certificates have been given, like to Matt Damon for his work as a Space Pirate in The Martian . However, to take the sailing class, you need to pass the additional boat test, which requires you to tread water for FIVE MINUTES. I can’t even swim, let alone tread water! Oh well, maybe one day…
I’ll be the first to say it:
The swim test is dumb.
I can’t swim. When I was little, I took swim classes at the community pool, which worked well. But then I got older, and I got tall.
I’m 6’ 4”. I can touch the bottom of every pool I get into. I haven’t been in a pool deep enough for me to have to swim since I was, like, 8.
So when I found out that MIT had a mandatory swim test, I was kinda frustrated. I knew I had to train beforehand, but I didn’t have easy access to a pool that was deep enough that I would be forced to actually swim and not put my feet down. My friends worked at a pool, and I know that I had every opportunity to learn, but I was too busy applying to be a blogger to learn to swim (you’re welcome).
The day after I got to campus, literally on day two, I had to report to the pool for the swim test. At least I wasn’t in the worst boat—some kids didn’t even know there was a swim test. I anxiously waited and took the swim test, and of course I failed; I don’t know how to swim. I got two and a half laps in when I realized that learning to actually swim was probably better than inching through this and never learning and drowning in the river someday.
So I climbed out of the pool and my legs were literally shaking. Y’all, swimming is hard. I took the walk of shame to the table and signed up for a swim class…
AND IT WAS AWESOME:
I thought swim class would be lame, but y’all, I could not have been more wrong. If you can’t swim or you’re unsure if you can pass, please consider just signing up for a swim class. Not only do you get to skip the line of people attempting the test to sign up for a class, you get whatever time you want, guaranteed, and it’ll fit our schedule.
My instructors were really chill. I had the Cross Country Coach and Softball Coach as instructors and they made the class great. They looked at everyone’s skill levels and taught us in groups accordingly.
We spent the first portions of classes doing a thing called mindful walks in the 3-4 foot pool. We had to walk from one side of the pool to the other—not swim, walk. We had to think about how the water felt, the resistance, all of that jazz. It felt weird. No matter how hard I tried to walk faster, I couldn’t get traction or move any faster than the water would let me. I had time that I could spend doing nothing but thinking.
This reminded me about The Erosion of Deep Literacy, and this study I recently read which asked people to sit in a room with a shocker and nothing but their thoughts for 15 minutes, and most people chose to give themselves In one outlier case, a man chose to give himself 190 shocks in the fifteen minute window than sit alone with nothing to do . MIT moves so fast, and having times like this to actively slow down became a highlight of my days.
I learned how to frontstroke! And backstroke! And crawl! And tread water! – Treading water is hard, especially in a pool that’s only four feet deep. Long story short: I learned to swim! I also met some great people, like a guy from Colorado who I do 8.01 Psets with [well, used to, before I dropped to 8.01L because I’m bad at physics.], and a dude with really cool pineapple crocs.
Last week was the last session for the swimming class this MIT requires students to take 4 PE classes during their undergraduate years. 1 PE class per quarter means you can finish this in your first year. Most kids I’ve met end up doing one of the MANY variations of yoga for the majority of their credits. , and at the end of class, the instructors asked who wanted to try the swim test. I didn’t think I could do it, but wanted to give it a shot anyway. I jumped in the freezing deep pool and started swimming, and before I knew it, I had done it! I had passed the swim test!
As I came out of the water, completing the core conflict established in episode one, I took off my tinted goggles and saw the world in a new, more nostalgic way. I realized that this was the last episode of my swimming training arc saga. All the conflict had been resolved, and all the loose ends had been tied up. I could swim now, and wouldn’t die in the river. I could hear a song playing in my head like a credit theme to end the episode. Our instructors called us out of the pool, and we all got into the smaller pool we started the class in. We took one last victory lap before all going our separate ways. This was the finale.
MIT has been a whirlwind of new things. It feels like behind every challenge is another bigger one, and it just gets more challenging. Even applying here seemed like an insurmountable task. I know some people are now finishing applications for early action, so I want to say good job. It’s a lot, I know. I remember very clearly how draining the whole process felt. I know I can’t really equate learning to swim to applying to college, but to whoever is reading this, for what it’s worth, good job in accomplishing the little things. I feel like a different, slightly more athletic person than I was before, and now I can tackle my next challenge:
- or .09144 km, whatever that means…what even is a kilometer? back to text ↑
- However, honorary Pirating Certificates have been given, like to Matt Damon for his work as a Space Pirate in The Martian back to text ↑
- In one outlier case, a man chose to give himself 190 shocks in the fifteen minute window back to text ↑
- MIT requires students to take 4 PE classes during their undergraduate years. 1 PE class per quarter means you can finish this in your first year. Most kids I’ve met end up doing one of the MANY variations of yoga for the majority of their credits. back to text ↑