The Swim Test at Washington and Lee Frequently Asked Questions

To be able to swim is a necessary skill, more so today than ever before. Where do you go in the world today that does not have a body of water close by? Swimming pools, both private and public, rivers, lakes and oceans require a person to be skilled enough to survive in a body of water for basic survival. In the U.S. alone, between 2005-2014, there were approximately 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually [1]. One in five of these deaths occur to persons under the age of 14. This and future generations have more access to opportunity than ever before and we want Washington and Lee students to be comfortable in any situation. At W&L, we teach our students to learn life-long skills that will help them lead active, healthy lives and we believe an important aspect of their life-long learning includes being able to swim and be more comfortable around water. W&L's campus is situated on the Maury River, where many students spend their free time pursuing activities on or near the water. We also offer classes in SCUBA, Paddling and have a vibrant outdoor education program. Many of W&L's study abroad trips occur around water. We believe it is our obligation to educate our students in the importance of water safety in order to ensure they are comfortable in and around water.  

What is the origin of the swim test at Washington and Lee?

It is believed the swim test came about in 1914 after the drowning death of a First-year student in a pond close to campus. The requirement went into effect in 1918 after the new Doremus Gymnasium was completed, and passing the test became a graduation requirement from that time forward.  

What does the swim test currently entail?

The swim requirement at Washington and Lee is a two-part process. You must pass both parts to receive credit. If a student fails one part of the test, they can retake that one singular component later. a) A student must swim 50 yards (2 lengths of the pool) without a time limit. The student can swim any stroke and can rest at the 25-yard mark. The student can change strokes as often as they wish and the swim test starts and finishes in the shallow end of the pool. b) A student must be able to tread water in the deep end of the pool for a time between 3-5 minutes. Students take the test during first year orientation at a time assigned by the Dean of First-year Experience. Men take their portion of the test first, the pool is cleared, and then the women take the test second. 

How many First-year students, on average, take PE 101 Fundamental Swimming instead of taking the swim test?

On average, the number of first year students that take PE 101 Fundamental Swimming class with our swim teachers is approximately 25 students. It is extremely rare for someone to 'fail" the test. Students are informed ahead of time to make alternative arrangements if they do not feel like they can pass the test. Dean Jason Rodocker does a great job informing first year students and having them contact the PE Director ahead of time. Dean Tammi Simpson is the contact for transfers and she communicates with the PE Director every year.

What does the syllabus involve for the PE 101 Fundamental Swimming class? How does that class work? What if after taking the class I still cannot pass the swim test?

The class is devoted to progressing towards basic swimming competency. The class works at building confidence in the water first and then focuses on fundamentals that allow each student to complete the swim test. The student(s) in the class are taught how to swim and survive in the water throughout the 12-week course in order to pass the swim test. If you complete the 12-week course and are still unable to pass the test, you will receive credit for taking the class and taking the test and will be given credit toward graduation.

If I know I cannot swim or I am a weak swimmer do I have to take the test during First Year Orientation?

NO! If you are in any doubt as to your ability to take and pass the test contact the Director of Physical Education, Neil Cunningham in the Athletic Department by email or by phone at (540) 458-8056. We will arrange to meet one on one and discuss your options.

If I have a pre-existing medical condition that could prohibit me from passing the swim test, what shall I do?

For medical exemption of the test, you must contact Dr. Jane Horton the University Physician in the Student Health Center by email or by phone at (540) 458-8401.

Can I request to take the test in a private setting?

YES! The swim test is designed to be a safe and comfortable experience for everyone.   If, for reasons of religious observance or gender identity/expression, or you would just simply prefer to take the swim test in a private setting we will happily accommodate your needs.  Please contact the Director of Physical Education, Neil Cunningham with any questions or concerns.

If I want to continue to swim during my time at Washington and Lee, can I do that?

Absolutely. We have a state of the art Natatorium with open swim times and additionally offer a more advanced Aerobic Swimming class through the PE Department

If I have my WSI or lifeguarding certification, can I be exempt from taking the test?

Yes. You must show proof of certification to the Director of Physical Education.


[1] CDC website