This context comes from the book "Black Rednecks And White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell.

At one time, the reputation of Dunbar graduates was such that they did not have to take entrance examinations to be admitted to Dartmouth, Harvard, and some other selective colleges.22 When Robert N. Mattingly graduated from the M Street School in 1902, he entered Amherst College, receiving credit for freshman mathematics and first-year college physics— and he graduated in three years, Phi Beta Kappa. Yet, far from being one of the elite, Mattingly was, in his own words,“at Amherst on a shoestring.”

  1. does "credit" in this context mean Official certification or recognition that a student has successfully completed a course of study(American Heritage® Dictionary)?

  2. This sentence is confusing because "freshman" & "first year" mean the same thing therefore I don't know whether the author meant the first year of college or the school that this person was attending before they graduated and went to college. How to tell the difference?

If Robert N. Mattingly entered college receiving credit for freshman mathematics and first-year college physics does it mean he didn't have to pursue studies that included this scope of the curriculum and was able to start out his college studies further in terms of the curriculum of that university?

1 Answer 1


Dunbar is a high school located on M Street in Washington D.C..

The school's reputation was so great that when Dunbar graduate Mattingly entered Amherst College, Amherst automatically gave him two first-year college credits just because he went to Dunbar. This advantage helped him graduate in three years, rather than the usual four years.

The intended difference between "freshman" and "first-year" is unclear.

  • I get it but, why does it say that he received credit for "freshman mathematics and first-year college physics"? "freshman" & "first-year" are the same thing AFAIK. Is it because those math achievements happened in his high school years and those in physics in college? May 2 at 19:44
  • 2
    I suspect that the math course is called “freshman” because it is not open to any students beyond their first year there, and that the physics course is called “first-year” not to specify which students were allowed to take it, but where it sat in the school’s physics curriculum. Think of a sophomore or junior wishing to begin studying some physics; then they would have to begin with the lowest-level course offered in physics, thus “first-year physics.” It’s a guess, but it does seem to me a decent explanation for the author’s using both terms in the same sentence. May 2 at 20:15
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    I think that the explanation from @PaulTanenbaum is likely correct. However, it's also possible that the author simply didn't want to repeat the same phrase (which is often considered poor style in English). Another way to avoid the repetition would be to write, e.g., "freshman mathematics and physics", but then it wouldn't be clear whether "freshman" applied to both. May 3 at 2:52
  • I agree that Paul's guess makes sense, but I have no way of knowing without contacting the College, so to me it it's a valuable comment, but doesn't belong in my answer.
    – gotube
    May 3 at 3:54
  • Yes, this was early 20th century. Not like that today at all.
    – Lambie
    Jun 3 at 14:48

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