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Senior questions legacy privilege in college admissions

By Andrea Leung

Every year, approximately 2.2 million individuals apply for college. This pool of applicants changes year by year in its proportions of race, gender, family income and background. However, one thing that has yet to change is the advantage of being a legacy.

In the college application process, legacy preference is the common phenomenon that applicants with a family member who attended a certain school will have an influential advantage in the admissions decisions. Though some schools vary in the effect legacy has on their admissions process, most schools like the Ivy Leagues and other tier one and two private schools are known for their practice of legacy preference.

This practice, however, is more common in private schools than in public schools. According to the legacy study conducted by Michael Hurwitz and published in hisEconomics of Education Review,” primary legacy gives an applicant anywhere from 33% to 50.7%  greater chance of being admitted into a university. Princeton University’s legacy admission rate, for example, is approximately 33% higher than the average acceptance rate of 6.5%.

There are many factors that admission officers must consider when deciding the fate of an applicant. Most widely known are the academic factors (i.e. GPA, SAT/ACT scores, AP classes, etc), supplemental essays and statements, and the extracurricular activities that the student has participated in. And of course, these are pretty accurate measurements as to whether the student would be a good fit for the school. However, one question that can be found on almost every university’s application is, “Have any of your relatives attended our university?”

One explanation for why the universities seek legacy in the pool of applicants is that having established ties between a family and a school will increase the student’s loyalty and sense of support and resources. However, the outstanding reason for this question is this: some of the most vital funding of schools comes from their alumni network, and what better way to reinforce this funding than to accept those who come from families within the alumni network?

This is just a practice accepted by whoever partakes in the application process; no one can do anything to change it. But that does not mean that it is fair or just to accept one applicant over the other, for the simple fact that their mom might have gone to the applicant’s potential school. Money should not be the reason why an applicant has a leg up on every other applicant.

I am a firm believer that acceptances should be based on the true fit of the student to the university, and of course their level of academic work and extracurricular activities. If someone works hard for their good grades and accomplishments, they deserve a fair and fighting chance in the admissions process, where everyone is viewed equally, under the same criteria.

To some extent, universities can’t be faulted for having some sort of preference towards students with a history of legacy. However, when that becomes one of the largest factors in admissions, which it is, something needs to change. Students with a parent who went to Harvard should not be 30% more likely to get admitted over a regular, non-legacy student.


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