Colleges didn’t used to be very selective at all.

Harvard used to let everyone in. Well not absolutely everyone, but pretty much anyone who applied. According to an article by Katie Sylvan in the Harvard Crimson:

During the late 19th century, Harvard put out advertisements encouraging prospective students to apply up until the very last days of summer. In an 1870 New York Times advertisement [right], the University boasted that 185 of the 210 candidates who took the entrance exam at the June examination were ultimately accepted.

Those 210 applicants, however, had to know “Greek and Latin, ancient and modern geography, history, and math,” according to the article.

These sorts of requirements actually excluded most of the population (this was at a time when 20 percent of the U.S. population was illiterate and only two percent of people had graduated from high school) but at least then admissions was based on something very specific. Applicants had to know Greek and Latin; they weren’t rejected for ambiguous, subjective stuff like admissions’ offices interest in “creating a diverse class.”

This year Harvard College admitted 6.2 percent of applicants. The decisions had nothing to do with applicants’ knowledge of ancient geography. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer