In the late 1800s, Columbia had a harder entrance exam than Harvard—and a banjo club
Unless you avoided the Internet this past week, you probably saw Harvard’s olde thyme-y 1869 entrance exam [PDF]. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your perusal—if only so you can come to terms with the fact that you couldn’t have gotten into Harvard in 1869. Too much Latin and Greek. (The exam’s math stuff, on the other hand, looks doable.)
Naturally, after seeing what it once took to get into Harvard, I wondered about Columbia’s old test. And while I couldn’t find anything from 1869, I did manage to find an 1898 letter to the New York Times describing Columbia’s exam at that time—which, oh man, sounds like a doozy.
In addition to Latin, Greek, algebra, and geometry—all subjects included on the 1869 Harvard exam—the Columbia entrance exam tested applicants’ knowledge of French, German, and the following works of English literature:
Milton’s Paradise Lost, Books I and II; Pope’s Iliad, Books I and XXII; the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers in The Spectator; Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Southey’s Life of Nelson, Carlyle’s Essay on Burns, Lowell’s Vision of Sir Launfal, Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, [...] Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Burke’s Speech on Conciliation with America, De Quincey’s The Flight of a Tartar Tribe, [and] Tennyson’s The Princess.
Sounds intense, right? I’d take the SAT over this thing any day.
That said, those blue-blooded gents who did well on the test and got into Columbia were in for a real treat. After all, did Harvard have a banjo club…
…and a mandolin club…
…and such a vibrant theater community?
I doubt it. And Harvard certainly didn’t have Spec.
Thomas Rhiel is a Spectrum opinion blogger and Spec’s former managing editor. His favorite old Spectator cartoon is probably this one.
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