Legacy admissions under fire, but Long Island colleges skip generational edge
Long Island seniors preparing college applications this fall will no longer check off any box indicating racial or ethnic background. However, on many applications, they will still be able to note if their parents or other relatives are alums. And that may mean the difference in winning acceptance or not at some of the nation’s most elite universities.
Recent studies, including one from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard University-based nonprofit, find that children of alumni — and especially children of the wealthiest alumni and donors — are up to six times more likely to be accepted into the nation’s most elite private universities than comparably qualified middle-class nonlegacy and nonathlete applicants.
The practice of legacy admissions now is being scrutinized across the country, including at Harvard. The university’s legacy admissions policy is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education based on complaints by three advocacy groups representing Latino and Black people.
That comes in the wake of a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling — in suits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina — that struck down affirmative action based on race-conscious admissions on the grounds they discriminated against white and Asian applicants.
Critics of that ruling are questioning why it is discriminatory to consider the ethnic and racial background of underrepresented minorities while legacy policies that tend to favor privileged white students still stand.
Defenders of legacy admissions argue the practice fosters strong bonds with alumni and encourages donations and fundraising. But a practice that began in the 1920s as a way to limit admissions of Jews — according to academic research and writings from that period — can still serve to perpetuate the status quo, critics said.
“Yes, it’s become more diverse over time, but the legacy pool to this day remains overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly privileged,” said Brian Taylor, managing partner of college admissions firm Ivy Coach, which for fees ranging from $99,000 to $1.5 million will advise applicants and their families on how to build an Ivy League-attractive resume and application.
Taylor, who grew up in Roslyn Heights, said top public schools on Long Island long have sent nonlegacy students to the Ivy League. But middle-class applicants have been squeezed, he said: On one side, there are elite preferences for underrepresented minorities. On the other, and even more significantly, there are preferences for legacy admissions, along with recruited athletes in some sports, and wealthy students whose tuition payments and parental donations bolster university coffers.
Legacy admissions are estimated to range between 10% and 20% at some of the most selective schools. At Harvard, with a 4% acceptance rate, a survey of the freshmen in the Class of 2025 found that about 15.5% were children of alumni.
Skip Stern, president of the Harvard Club of Long Island and a 1981 Harvard grad who helps interview local applicants for his alma mater, said admittance has become much more difficult given the “explosion” in the number of applications flowing to elite schools through Common App. That’s a single application that can be sent to multiple schools, with additional school-specific sections.
The percentage of people “who get admitted every year is less and less. And that is true for legacy kids and nonlegacy kids,” said Stern, a personal banker who lives in Port Washington.
Already, several highly selective schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University, have renounced legacy admissions as unfair.
No edge at Long Island campuses
At Long Island institutions, legacy admissions do not give applicants an edge, given that acceptance rates are far higher and less competitive, local administrators said. None that responded said they considered legacy status in admissions decisions.
At Molloy University in Rockville Centre, where admissions official Marguerite Lane estimates that 25 alumni children are enrolled each year, legacy status isn’t considered. “It’s definitely more for the competitive institutions than others,” Lane said. “We have a lot of students who come because family and friends attended.”
At Adelphi University in Garden City last fall, 3.1% of all students admitted were legacy, with an alumni parent or grandparent. That number is 2.6% for this fall.
While legacy status entitles Adelphi students to a $500-per-semester scholarship, said Shawana Singletary, assistant vice president and chief enrollment officer, it does not factor into admissions decisions. She said the university “proudly emphasizes the admission of students based solely on their academic achievements, leaving no room for preferential treatment based on familial backgrounds.”
Stony Brook University ignores legacy status entirely. In a statement, the university asserted it “does not do legacy admissions nor do we track them. We would not be aware if a student has a parent or grandparent who attended the university.”
‘You are not lost in the crowd’
For those whose college experience is a family affair, there are benefits even if that doesn’t boost admission chances.
Matthew Floyd, 21, a criminal justice major and college athlete, heard about Molloy from his college-athlete mother, Christine, a Molloy alumna. He attended alumni events with her and, he said, “I liked the atmosphere and sense of community of the athletic teams that the school gave off. … There’s scholarships offered, also connections, people she knew when she was there who are still there. I was able to talk to them and network that way.”
Mary Ann Mearini, Adelphi’s alumni relations associate, who got an undergraduate degree taking night classes in the 1990s with a son, said three of her four children, a nephew, three cousins and a brother-in-law all attended at different times.
“When my nephew was there and had a problem, he said, ‘Aunt Mary, who should I see?’ I gave him the name of a professor I had and he ended up coming back for a second degree,” she said. “To know that there’s family that feel what I feel about Adelphi means the world; that you are not lost in the crowd.”
Elizabeth Panchyk, 21, didn’t think she wanted to go to the same college as her parents, but when she took the Adelphi tour, it felt right for her, she said. Now a rising senior, she is the editor-in-chief of the college paper, the same as her dad, Richard Panchyk, when he attended more than 30 years ago.
“To me, it’s just something I can share with my parents,” she said. “There is a small scholarship for it, and that’s it.”
“Qualified students who apply to Adelphi will get in, and that’s another reason I liked Adelphi,” said Richard Panchyk, of Westbury, Class of 1992. “It’s just a fairer process for applicants.”