Why Colleges Value Legacy Applicants

Colleges value legacy applicants.

We oppose the practice of legacy admission but we certainly understand why colleges are incentivized to admit the progeny of alumni (photo credit: Andrew Chen).

Legacy admission — the practice of offering preferential treatment to the progeny of a school’s alumni base — is unfair, it’s unjust, and it’s been our aim at Ivy Coach to make it an anachronism. We’d also add it’s a violation of law, specifically of 26 U.S. Code § 170. Simply put, when people make tax deductible donations to colleges, they’re not supposed to receive anything in return from these colleges for their generosity. And yet they are receiving something in return…their children are receiving preferential treatment in admissions. But just because we ardently oppose the practice of legacy admission doesn’t mean we don’t understand precisely why these colleges love legacy applicants. At the University of Pennsylvania as but one example, a quarter of Early Decision admits to its Class of 2022 are legacies.

Colleges are Incentivized to Value Legacy Applicants

In an “Ask Marilyn” piece up on “Parade” entitled “On College and University Admissions,” a reader, Krissa Cayle from Burke, Viginia asks Marilyn, “Some colleges and universities have admission preferences for ‘legacy’ applicants: those whose parents or other relatives are alumni of the school. Do you think legacy applicants should be given preference over non-legacy applicants?” And Marilyn’s answer, you ask? She replied, “I can’t think of a single reason – not even a bad one – for this practice, which I believe is unfair and unproductive.” Oy vey! Might we suggest Marilyn think more deeply before replying to her readers next time? Of course, we have absolutely no idea who Marilyn is and she likely has no expertise when it comes to college admissions but you don’t need to have an expertise in the college admissions practice to understand why colleges value legacy applicants.

Alumni so often donate money to universities because they love where they went to school and they’ve created lifelong friendships with their classmates. Some alumni of course donate more than others but all of these donations are used to fund new libraries, to endow professor chairs, to build new football fields, to further cancer research efforts, and so much more. When these universities admit the children and grandchildren of alumni, they help perpetuate a wonderful cycle for the university — one of graduating students who will go on to give back to their alma maters. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. In no uncertain terms, colleges are incentivized to admit legacy applicants to advance the college’s mission. Marilyn, while we agree that the practice of legacy admission might be unfair (it is!), we’d like to pose a question to you. Where do you think much of the money to fund students attending college on financial aid comes from? Hint hint. It doesn’t come from space. Much of it comes from alumni who’ve created a legacy for each successive generation of their family of giving back to their alma mater.

Have a Comment on why colleges value legacy applicants? Post your thoughts, your reflections, your questions, and what you ate for breakfast below and we’ll be sure to write back.

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