You thought getting into Amherst was pretty tough. What with working your ass off to keep up your GPA, writing a world shattering admissions essay, and taking twenty practice SAT tests, it felt like applying to Amherst was one of the hardest things you had to do in high school, and getting in was one of your most impressive accomplishments. But would you have gotten into Amherst in 1885?
In 1885, Amherst College applicants were required to take a two-day entrance exam. Unlike the SAT, this entrance exam didn’t stop at Reading, Writing, and Math. The exam covered English, French, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Ancient History, Latin, and Greek. The Latin and Greek portions of the exam took up the entire second day of the test. Applicants had to translate Latin passages by Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Virgil, and Ovid, and Ancient Greek passages by Homer and Xenophon. Personally, my sixth grade Latin is a tad rusty, so these tasks seem rather daunting. After the translation passages, the exam asked questions such as “Write lines 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 metrically divided, indicating the place of caesural pause” and “State the various forms of conditional sentences, and illustrate each Greek example.” It also included a passage in English that students were expected to translate into Greek. If you thought studying for the SAT was hard, imagine cramming French, Latin, and Ancient Greek into your brain before the test.
The Ancient History section asked students to name and locate Greek islands, name and locate the divisions of Italy, and discuss the constitution of Athens at the time of Pericles. In the English section, applicants had to write a composition on either Silas Marner’s (a novel by George Eliot) Solitary Life, the Influence of Eppie on Silas Marner’s Character, Lorenzo and Jessica (characters from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice), or the Character of Sidney Carton (from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities). Hopefully you read one of those books carefully!
The math section asked questions like “Assuming the meter to equal 39.37 inches, find the number of square meters in an acre” and “Extract the cube root of 421,875”. Imagine tackling problems like that without a calculator. Plus their brains must have been complete mush by the time they reached the arithmetic section, after racking their brains for the names of all those Greek islands.
It may be becoming increasingly difficult to get into college, as the number of applicants rises every year. Only 13% of applicants were admitted to Amherst in 2011, so pat yourself on the back for being here. But I’ve got to say, looking at the requirements for the 1885 Amherst admissions exam, I’m pretty glad I was applying to college in 2010. Suddenly the SATs seem kind of warm and fuzzy.