Preferential Treatment of Legacy Applicants

Legacy Admission, Legacy Applicants, Legacy Admissions
Legacy applicants absolutely have an advantage in the admissions process.

If you’re a regular reader of our college admissions blog, you know where we at Ivy Coach stand on the issue of legacy admission: we have called for an end to the practice of offering preferential treatment to the children and grandchildren of a school’s alumni base. For years from atop our soapbox in college admissions, we have chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho. Legacy admission has got to go.” And we’re not done chanting — not even close. So when a commenter wrote in recently that she is tired of hearing that legacies receive preferential treatment in admissions, well, we can’t let that one slide.

An Argument that Legacies Don’t Receive Preferential Treatment in Admissions

The commenter wrote, “As someone in college admissions at a highly selective institution, I am frankly tired of hearing about the so called preferential treatment given to legacies. At our school the stats for legacy admits and everyone else are dead even and we only even look at legacy if the student is willing to commit ED. Within that group the stats are equal for legacy and non-legacy admits even when you take out athletes. Why is it so impossible for people to believe that bright people who attended top ranked colleges have children who are equally bright and therefore just as deserving of a spot in the class as anyone else. The legacy argument is a tired one. Additionally at most schools there are perhaps 20-25 development admits, those are typically legacies – and thus, with few exceptions, the development and legacies admits are overlaps.”

The Argument that Legacies Don’t Receive Preferential Treatment in Admissions is Preposterous

And if you happened to read the aforementioned argument that legacies don’t receive preferential treatment in admissions, well, let’s just say we hope you read through the nonsense. But let’s dissect the commenter’s preposterous argument anyway. First, she argues that her school only considers legacy status if the student applies Early. At just about every highly selective college, that is true: legacy candidates only benefit from their legacy status in the Early round — not the Regular round. These schools believe that if a legacy candidate — who grew up knowing all about their institution — didn’t love them enough to apply Early, they’re not going to show their love back to them by assigning them an advantage in the admissions process.

The commenter then argues that among Early candidates, the stats of legacy candidates are equal to that of non-legacy applicants. And while we would argue that’s certainly not the case across the board at highly selective colleges (it’s so not true!), the commenter is missing an essential, larger point. It’s not all about stats. If it were all about stats, then students with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores wouldn’t so often be denied admission by our nation’s elite colleges year after year. Just imagine all of the students with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores who didn’t earn admission in the Early round because around 25% of seats went to legacy candidates! And, yes, in recent years at many of our nation’s highly selective universities, up to one in four seats in the Early round has gone to a legacy candidate. By our arithmetic, that only leaves three out of four seats left.

And the commenter isn’t done yet. She then reasons that legacies are smart because they’re the children and grandchildren of smart people. That’s indeed logical. But please. There are plenty of smart college applicants who are the children and grandchildren of smart people — just people who didn’t happen to previously go to the institution. And when up to a quarter of the slots are reserved for legacies, well, it doesn’t leave much room left for the children and grandchildren of smart people who didn’t go to the school.

The commenter finishes off her nonsensical argument with a flourish by arguing that applicants flagged as development cases often overlap with legacy applicants. That, of course, is true. But what does that have to do with anything? The fact that a portion of legacy applicants are development cases does not make the case that legacy applicants aren’t offered preferential treatment in admissions. Is the commenter trying to argue that development cases, a subset of legacy cases, aren’t offered preferential treatment in admissions? If so, you can probably hear us laughing from wherever you are.


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