Could you imagine asking college students this kind of thing today?

Elon College's Application, 1913: Have You Read Any Homer?

...In 1913, Elon College asked applicants point blank: How much do you know? The application requests little biographical information, instead asking prospective students to detail their training in several subdisciplines—including Cicero, Greek history, and French literature.

There is a decided liberal-arts bent to the categories—studied much Xenophon lately?—reflecting the Classical education of the era. Though many colleges, including Elon, were introducing more courses in the social sciences, this application reflects a lingering fidelity to the Classics.

The maze of disciplines listed also speaks to a lack of standardization, one that plagued college admissions at the turn of the 20th century. "Every college loved to have its own independence to say this is what students should know coming in," says Harold S. Wechsler, professor of Jewish education and educational history at New York University. "The big occupation before 1920 was trying to figure out how to standardize things so the high schools and private prep schools wouldn’t go crazy."

In the late 19th-century, Midwestern land-grant colleges began to eschew entrance examinations in favor of a certificate system that relied on partner high schools to guarantee their graduates were prepared for college coursework, according to Mr. Wechsler. There is no mention of a certificate system in the Elon College catalogs of the time, but there are signs of a warming attitude toward high-school education. The 1913 version, for instance, is the first to note that students "from accredited high schools" do not have to take entrance examinations before beginning their studies.