Courtesy of Cornell University

Students wait on line to complete the swim test graduation requirement.

August 23, 2022

Not Going Swimmingly: Students Experience Long Waits, Stress at Swim Test

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For the first time in two years, Cornellians are once again swimming 75 yards across the Helen Newman Hall pool in order to complete the swim test: one of two University-wide graduation requirements at Cornell. Reinstated for the fall 2022 semester after a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, this fall is the first chance for freshmen, sophomores and juniors to complete the test. 

Students lined up outside of Helen Newman Hall to take the test from August 15-19 with additional dates on the 26th and in October and November. All undergraduates graduating in fall 2022 and onwards must either pass the test or enroll in a swimming class offered by the University. 

Despite reminders from lifeguards on duty that the swim test is “not a race” and can be taken at any pace or stroke, Emily Cen ’26 found the test hard to enjoy due to how the other swimmers behaved. 

“Everyone swam really fast, making it more like a race than a test,” Cen said. “And it would be awkward to be the last to reach the end.”

This competitiveness made the process more tiring for swimmers like Zachary Seidner ’26, who said he felt he had to compete. 

“It was surprisingly exhausting; I think everyone in the lanes for ‘strong swimmers’ were racing each other since they felt like they needed to go fast,” Seidner said. “This made the whole process very tiring.”

Students also dealt with problems unrelated to the swimming part of the test, including long lines and packed halls. 

“The line took about [an] hour to get through for a swim test that lasted about 90 seconds. It was low stress but quite annoying,” said Zachary Chosed ’26. 

Shao Stassen ’26 had a similar experience, waiting nearly an hour to get into the pool despite arriving for the test 30 minutes early. While Stassen said he had an “okay” experience with the test, she emphasized that the line to get in was cramped. 

“While I was waiting, the finished people also came back the same way, which [made] the narrow hallway even tighter,” Stassen said.

For Seidner, the long line had an unexpected benefit: friendship.

“I arrived 20 minutes early to beat the line and still ended the swim test 50 minutes after they said it would occur,” Seidner said. “It was cool though because in line I got to get to know more people and the long line gave so much room for conversation that I made a potential friend.” 

Some students had mixed feelings about the test. Alex Fitenko ’26 said he enjoyed the swimming part of the test but found the line “ridiculous.” For separate reasons, he believes the test should not exist.

“I think the swim test should no longer be a requirement because it is not relevant to most students’ goals,” Fitenko said. 

However, many students still support the existence of the swim test, even if they wish it was better organized. 

“I actually loved that Cornell had swimming as a graduation requirement. I never knew how to swim until I came to America, and I think it is a critical skill to have — especially in Ithaca,” Stassen said. “Know[ing] how to swim can really save [the] life of other[s], and it is such a good exercise even for [the] older population.”

Seidner added that he supports the test particularly because of Cornell’s location.

“In today’s world, it is important to know how to swim for safety reasons, especially with Cornell’s gorges,” Seidner said.