Swim to Graduate

"Intramural: swimming, group of ten," 5 October 1961.  From the UNC Photographic Laboratory Collection, P00031.

“Intramural: swimming, group of ten,” 5 October 1961. From the UNC Photographic Laboratory Collection, P00031.

We’re so proud of everyone who graduated yesterday! Congratulations! But did you know that up until 2006, all undergraduates were required to pass a swim test in order to graduate? Well, the swim test was not unique to Carolina. It used to be a requirement at many colleges and universities across the country. But where did the requirement come from exactly?

The legend at UNC, and many other campuses, starts with the death of a student by drowning. The student’s family decided to give a large endowment to the University after the incident but with the condition that all students know how to swim. This theory is nothing more than a myth though since many colleges and universities established swim tests during WWII when campuses became designated training programs.

In 1942, UNC was designated as a pre-flight training program by the US government, and the university was awarded funds to construct several structures on campus including the ROTC building, the outdoor pool, and the indoor track.  Of course, the midshipmen who were a part of the pre-flight training program had to learn to swim. During and after the war, national debates and discussions centered on whether America’s youth were fit enough to defend our country. So a compulsory swim test was implemented at UNC for men in 1944 and women in 1946.

The swim test remained unchanged until the 1970s when it was altered so that undergraduates had to swim 50 yds and tread water for 5 minutes. The test remained in place through the spring of 2006 when it was officially ended as a requirement for the fall semester.

"Swimming Physical Education," 31 October 1960. From the UNC Photographic Laboratory Collection, P00031

“Swimming Physical Education,” 31 October 1960. From the UNC Photographic Laboratory Collection, P00031

Did you have to take the swim test?  We’d love to hear about your experience! 

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