Picking Apart Legacy Admission

Legacy admission is an anachronistic practice that needs to go (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

As loyal readers of our college admissions blog know all too well, we have been calling for an end to the practice of legacy admission for many years. Before schools like Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College gave the heave-ho to legacy admissions, we stood atop our soapbox in college admissions and demanded change — change that is still necessary at the vast majority of America’s highly selective universities. So when we came across a letter to the editor of The Boston Globe this past weekend in which the writer defended legacy admission, well, let’s just say it inspired us to post a response.

In the letter to the editor entitled “Doing away with legacy admissions may not be the lever some think it is,” Julian Max Aroesty writes, “I support diversity and affirmative action, but I consider them to be unrelated to the issue of legacy admissions. Since, of course, the legacy applicant must have an application that warrants admission, then the alleged benefit of removing legacy admissions can only be justified by a narrow analysis. If, say, a thousand such legacies are barred from admission to the alma mater of their families, then virtually all would be accepted at another of the country’s top colleges. The result, then, is that the same number of spaces would be available to other applicants. There would be no overall gain for other applicants.”

Allow us to pick some of Mr. Aroesty’s arguments apart. The legacy applicant “must have an application that warrants admission.” Sure, if his parents donated a library or two and maybe a boathouse and rugby field, we suppose that would classify as “warranting admission.” What does Mr. Aroesty define as warranting admission? It seems like a blanket statement if you ask us. Eliminating legacy admission would also not bar these students from earning admission to the alma mater of their parents. It would simply not give them a leg up over non-legacy applicants. And who says these students, without their significant leg up, would earn admission to other similarly highly selective universities, as Mr. Aroesty seems to suggest? The fact is, contrary to Mr. Aroesty’s words, there would likely be significant spots that would open up at these institutions if 1,000 students didn’t have the leg up at their parents’ alma maters.

 
 

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