Here Is Harvard’s 1869 Entrance Exam
Ever thought you were good enough to get into Harvard? Well, here’s your chance to take their entrance exam from 1869. Back in those days, there wasn’t a huge line of future students standing at the doors, and oftentimes Universities had to go out of their way to attract more attendees. In a newspaper ad from back in the day, Harvard pointed out that 185 of the 210 candidates had gotten in by passing their entrance exam. But what those ads failed to mention was what credentials the new candidates needed to have before even standing a chance at getting in.
Harvard’s literature school required that freshmen be well versed in “the whole of Virgil,” Caesar’s Commentaries, and Felton’s Greek Reader or comparable texts. They also had to read and write in Latin and Greek, “with the accents”, no less.
The entrance exam also required extensive knowledge of both ancient and modern geography, English, history, mathematics up to quadratic equations. The metric system was also required from 1868 onwards. Physics, on the other hand, was only added from 1876.
“The rise of the elite schools which have competitive admissions is a post-World War II phenomenon, maybe even a post-1960 phenomenon,’’ said Professor Timothy J. Gilfoyle from Loyola University, a graduate of Columbia University. “Most people never got past the eighth grade in the 19th century, and these schools just didn’t have many people to recruit from.”
Colleges like Harvard and Columbia, he said, were “very elite blue-blood, upper crust institutions,’’ and “they just had a small potential pool of applications.”
That is clearly no longer their problem with Harvard or any other high-level institution. In any case, take a look at these entrance exams from back then, and please let us know how many of them were you able to pass.