The Ivy Coach Daily

June 27, 2024

Harvard University Legacy Admission: Everything You Need to Know

The exterior of Widener Library is featured from below at Harvard University.

Previously Published on May 11, 2011:

At this point it is no secret that Harvard University gives legacy applicants a boost in the admissions process. Harvard is, after all, the institution that pioneered the practice as a way to despicably reduce the number of Jewish students on campus nearly a century ago. Given this troubling history, the recent scrutiny brought to Harvard’s unfair admissions practices should not come as a surprise, nor should President Biden’s Department of Education’s civil rights probe into legacy admissions at Harvard. In the midst of all of this controversy, it’s important that students and families have a thorough understanding of how legacy status plays a role in admission to the world’s most prestigious university.

According to the Harvard College Admissions Office and Griffin Financial Aid Office“The application process is the same for all candidates. Among a group of similarly distinguished applicants, the children of Harvard College alumni/ae may receive an additional look.” Of course, this rhetoric dances around the fact that “an additional look” at legacy applicants amounts to a 400% increase in admission likelihood (by some estimates). It’s not just that legacy applicants edge out equally competitive non-legacy applicants. They are put into their own fast-tracked category, along with recruited athletes, development cases, and members of the Z-list.

How Does Harvard Define Legacy Status?

Applicants to Harvard are only given legacy status if they have at least one parent who is an alum of Harvard College, unlike some other Ivy League schools. For example, the University of Pennsylvania gives the children of graduate school alumni legacy status. Harvard’s policy is no better — it just further entrenches the unfair privileges of certain wealthy families who have called Harvard College their own for many generations.

Why Legacy Status Should be Phased Out at Harvard

We at Ivy Coach have long called out the unfairness of legacy admissions in the Ivy League, and Harvard in particular. Legacy applicants at Harvard are overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and the recipients of a lifetime of privilege. In fact, a 2023 study found that 43% of white students at Harvard are either legacies, recruited athletes, or the children of major donors.

As increasingly competitive admissions cycles continue to drive Harvard’s acceptance rate downward (a mere 3.6% of applicants were accepted into the Class of 2028), there is no excuse for a lesser applicant with legacy status to take the place of a well-deserving applicant. It’s more than just an “additional look” — it’s a wholesale advantage. Of course, many legacy applicants are distinguished in their own right, but their overrepresentation in the student body is not just a result of their own merit.

With the power of Affirmative Action in Harvard’s admission cycle curtailed last summer, students and activists across the country have called for an end to “Affirmative Action for the rich,”i.e., legacy status and other admissions privileges, which are shown to be even more unjustifiable in the current campus climate (although, don’t be fooled — institutions like Harvard will still covertly use race-based admissions criteria through the Chief Justice Roberts Loophole).

The Path Forward for Harvard’s Admissions Process

The Ivy Coach solution to Harvard’s legacy admission woes is two-fold: do away with the admissions boost given to children of alumni, but protect the admissions boost given to the children of major donors and those admitted through the Z-List. Children of major donors, i.e. “development cases,’’ only make up a slim proportion of an admitted class, but giving them an admissions boost ensures that Harvard’s generous financial aid program for low and middle-income families will not be jeopardized by disgruntled donors who pull funding because their child was denied.

Harvard’s accessibility to low-income students should not be gambled with a policy that does not enshrine a development admissions preference. The legacy admissions preference, on the other hand, is a vestige of a much less tolerant time, and should be phased out immediately. We at Ivy Coach call upon Harvard to create a more diverse, equitable, and forward-thinking campus that pushes the needle of higher education forward. The Ivy Coach saying is quite true here: where Harvard goes, the rest of the Ivy League tends to follow. It’s high time that Harvard becomes a leader on this issue.

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