A stroll through classified ads from more than a century ago shows that college was once a buyer’s bazaar for qualified students, and universities rolled out the welcome mat and reached out for the students they coveted. Top-drawer universities, including Harvard and Columbia, advertised for students steadily through August and September right up to opening day and offered entrance exams the weekend before classes resumed to give students every chance of taking and passing them.
Harvard even played down the difficulty of its entrance exam in ads, reprinted above, that it placed in The New York Times in September 1870, noting that of the 210 candidates who took its test the June before, “185 were admitted.” In other words, nearly seven out of eight candidates who sat for the exam made the cut, a statistic that few selective colleges these days would pay money to broadcast.
The expectations were high: entrance exams included questions about Latin, Greek, Virgil, and Caesar's Commentaries. Harvard's entrance exam from 1869 is posted online as a PDF file at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/education/harvardexam.pdf
Could any of us pass the exam today?"
You can read more in the New York Times article by Alison Leigh Cowan at http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/remembering-when-college-was-a-buyers-bazaar/
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