The Massachusetts Institute of Technology swim test—a 100-yard paddle required to graduate—hung over Megan Ochalek for four long years.
“I procrastinated taking it for seven semesters, despite many, many angry texts from my mom,” said Ms. Ochalek, 22 years old, a mechanical engineering major.
She was about to dive in last spring—her last semester before graduating—when the pandemic struck. Other schools with swim requirements such as Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia waived their tests. MIT took another approach: It decided to go virtual with an online “conceptual swim class” to test student buoyancy.
In normal times, the swim test acts as a rite of passage for new MIT recruits, ensuring students better known for their brains can also ace aquatics. The requirement began in 1948 in response to drowning casualties during World War II.
The virtual class, which is just for seniors, tests students with a quiz and has five essay questions on subjects such as how they would react to trouble in different types of water. Students have to cite texts from the American Red Cross. Questions include: What are three ways to ensure safe diving? (Answer: Water at least 9-feet-deep, care with funnel-shaped home pools, and never drink and dive.) Or, How do you self-rescue after falling through ice? (As a final step, once back on the surface, roll away from the break.)