• In order to graduate from MIT, undergraduate students must complete a 100-yard swim test or take a swim course. In an annual September ritual at the MIT Zesiger Center pool, hundreds of incoming freshmen take the swim test during Orientation week.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • After checking in at the pool, students watch a brief video and presentation about the swim-test procedures. Staff from the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) manage the test sessions with help from faculty-coaches and student Orientation leaders.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • There is no time limit to the test, and students may select a lane that suits their speed. The only requirement is that students swim continuously for 100 yards — or two round trips across the width of the Z Center pool.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • Students who do not know how to swim or who otherwise are not able to take the swim test may fulfill the requirement by registering for a beginner swim class. DAPER staff work with students to address special circumstances, such as setting up women-only sessions and helping individuals with disabilities successfully complete a swim class.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • Lifeguards are stationed throughout the pool to ensure safety. Alana Parkinson walked alongside swimmers in the slow lane, to give them confidence that a helping hand was nearby if they needed it.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • This year, nearly 800 students lined the pool deck across two sessions to take the swim test. DAPER staff do a great job keeping things moving, but sometimes a little patience may be required, as Sarah Coe '16 found out.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • Students do not have to be Olympic-caliber swimmers. Whether they choose the breastroke, backstroke, doggy paddle or crawl, the only things that matters is swimming for 100 yards without stopping.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • A crowd of students take on the 'boat test,' an optional test that involves treading water continuously for 10 minutes after finishing the 100 yard swim. The boat test is required by the sailing pavilion and boathouse in order to use sailboats or crew shells.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • Students show off the cards they received after completing both the swim and boat test.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • Director of Physical Education Carrie Sampson Moore registers a student's successful completion of the swim test. For students who did not take the test during Orientation, Moore offers numerous opportunities throughout the year to pass the requirement.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen
  • New freshmen Nihala Thanikkal and Olivia Basil show off the T-shirts students receive for successfully completing the MIT swim test. By taking care of the requirement at Orientation, they can focus on the tests they'll take in the classroom.

    Photo: Thomas Gearty

    Full Screen

New freshmen take a swim, take a test

Class of 2016 splashes its way through MIT’s mandatory swim test.


New students at MIT can look forward to a lot of exams, from chemistry and biology to math and physics. The first test for most freshmen, however, doesn’t take place in a lab or lecture hall — it happens in the swimming pool.

Completing a swim test or taking a swim course is a requirement for graduation. And so, in an annual Orientation ritual each September, hundreds of first-year students huddle on the decks of the Zesiger Center pool, waiting for their turn to take the plunge.

To pass the test, students just jump in the water and swim 100 yards continuously. Style and speed don’t matter. Whether a student chooses the breaststroke, backstroke, dog paddle or crawl, the only thing that counts is traversing the width of the pool four times without stopping.

According to Carrie Sampson Moore, the director of physical education, 775 students splashed their way through the test across two sessions this year. Another 100 signed up for an introductory swimming class — an alternative for those who do not know how to swim or are otherwise unable to take the test.

“We work really hard to make any accommodations for someone to take the test or a class,” Moore says. “If someone has an injury and cannot take it now, they can sign up for next quarter. If someone prefers a women-only environment, we can make alternative arrangements.”

Nearly everyone who takes the test passes. But if a student is not able to complete it, no problem, according to Moore — students can re-test or sign up to take a swim course. “I think the swim test is important,” Moore says. “MIT values personal safety, and it’s a great, lifelong skill as well.”


Topics: Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER), Student life, Students

Back to the top