Legacy admission, the practice of offering preferential treatment in college admissions decision-making to the progeny of a school’s alumni, is a practice that we believe to be an anachronism of this still young century. In fact, from atop our soapbox in college admissions, we’ve been calling for an end to the practice of legacy admission for many years. But we’re not naive. We understand why the practice remains intact in college admissions offices of elite universities across the land. To put it simply, colleges rely on donations. Tuition dollars only cover a portion of a college student’s education — donations cover the rest. The folks who donate to elite schools overwhelmingly tend to be loyal alumni of those institutions. To offer preferential treatment to the children and grandchildren of these alumni is, as they say in Latin, quid pro quo.
Rejecting a System of Hereditary Privilege
But just because it makes financial sense for these universities doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t seem right to us that one-fourth of all Early Decision admitted students to an Ivy League school would be legacies — it seems excessive. In a recent article for “Inside Higher Ed” entitled “I Pledge $5,000 to My Alma Mater if It Will End Legacy Preferences,” R. Guru Singh writes “We need more opportunity and mobility for high school kids across America, from Bluefield, W.V., to the Bronx, N.Y. With all his flaws, Thomas Jefferson rejected the system of hereditary privilege of the English monarchy and hoped America could be a natural aristocracy based on virtue and talent.” And while Singh’s pledge of $5,000 is a bit silly, we echo these words and the sentiment of our founding father.
Some admissions officers at elite universities over the years have claimed that legacy status in admissions essentially serves as a tie-breaker — that if two students are equal and only if they’re equal, that the legacy applicant will earn admission over the non-legacy applicant. But that of course is utter nonsense. A pool of Early Decision admits to an Ivy League institution in which a quarter of them are the progeny of alumni puts that claim to bed, no?
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