Do Legacy Applicants Deserve a Leg Up?

Mod Squad Linc sporting a non-legacy tee.

Admissions officers across the country are reading early applications and trying to craft the strongest, most diverse, talented freshman class they can… as well as accept the athletes their coaches want, find the bassoon player the orchestra needs, fill the Tibetan-Buddhism-major slots, and, perhaps, see that the offspring of high donor alumni get accepted.

How one feels about that may depend upon whether your child plays the bassoon, excels at a sport, or inherited a college legacy.

Here, a number of perspectives…

The New York Times wrote about the added pressure this puts on legacy students, Being a Legacy Has Its Burden.

Mr. Arthur worries that “the whole Ivy League school thing” will intimidate her. At one point, his daughter, a high school junior with a 4.0, burst into tears and said, “I don’t have the grades for Harvard!”

NYT’s Room for Debate offered six opinions on the question, Why Do Top Schools Still Take Legacy Applicants?

Just for fun, here are quotes pulled from each of those opinions. I’ll bet you can guess which authors are for and which against.

As Gene Nichol, former president of the College of William & Mary has observed, why, in an admissions process that is supposed to be about merit, are we still asking applicants, “Who is your Daddy?”

What admissions decisions can be is rational. State universities give preference to in-state children because their tax-paying parents support the institution. Alumni donations provided more than $7 billion to higher education in 2010 — more than one-quarter of total gifts. Rationally, should not children of these alumni also be given slight preference?

…But of greater concern is the fact that the legacy policy passes on a privilege, and predominantly whites enjoy the benefits. Indeed, it hurts minority diversity on campus.

Nevertheless, it is foolish to ignore the benefit that appropriate prudently applied legacy admissions can serve in crafting a freshman class. Alumni and benefactors who from generation to generation have developed ties to an institution and given time and treasure to enhance it deserve acknowledgment.

Elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni that essentially says, ‘You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.’

In fact, besides legacy preferences, institutions have created all sorts of mechanisms to maintain and reproduce inequality. For example, elite schools rely on the dogmatic notion that gate-keeping tests, like the SAT, GRE or LSAT, actually have any bearing on a students’ ability to succeed in school. They don’t.

I understand from an institutional point of view why it pays to give legacies a boost — they foster family pride and tradition, school spirit, increased giving by dedicated alums who also volunteer their time. I have more of an issue with the number of recruited athletes. In my opinion, 20 percent of the class is too high — and football is largely to blame because of its huge roster. Plus, many “helmet-sport” recruited athletes come in well below the standard for the school. Legacies are typically much more academically qualified compared to the top recruited athletes who can get into Harvard with C grades and 500 SAT scores if they throw a football or are good with a hockey puck.

GreatCollegeAdvice.com wrote about it at Legacy Admissions:

Sure, it helps to be a legacy if you’re applying to the college to which your parents attended.

But it also helps if you’re an athlete.

It also helps if you’re a musician.

It also helps if you’re an artist.

It also helps if you want to study Portuguese and the college is desperately looking for students to fill Portuguese classes.

You get the idea.  Being a legacy is just one hook amongst many when it comes to applying to college.

This is a good time to touch base with our goals for Mod Squad Pete:  do the very best you can academically, follow your passions for extracurriculars, and get your applications in ahead of the deadline. Then, go play the piano and forget all about it. Thanks for the concerts, Pete!

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2 Comments

Filed under Getting In

2 responses to “Do Legacy Applicants Deserve a Leg Up?

  1. GUEST

    Hi! What do you think about minority legacies? Are they hurt or helped by legacy? I know that Asians are usually hurt overall in the general top school admissions process, but how are unique Asian legacies treated? Thanks for your insight!

    • I’m sorry, Guest, I really don’t have enough information to help you with this. We asked about the legacy treatment at one very selective college (which Mod Squad Dad would say was not as selective when he attended there); we were told the legacy earns the applicant one additional reading of the application. They also said that applying Early Decision would tell them that the applicant truly wanted to attend that college (and suggested we compare admission rates for ED vs regular submission). I’m sorry I cannot be more helpful.

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