The Sting of Ending Legacy Admission

Legacy Admission, Legacy Status, Legacy Candidate

We echo our call today for an end to legacy admission.

We have long called for an end to the practice of legacy admission. For those not familiar with the term legacy admission, it’s the practice of offering preferential treatment to the children and grandchildren of alumni of universities. At Harvard, as an example, court documents in the Students For Fair Admission v. Harvard University case have shined a lantern on the fact that legacy applicants are admitted at about five times the rate as non-legacy applicants. To suggest that legacy applicants have an edge at Harvard would be, well, an understatement to say the least. But while we, and many others, have called for an end to this decades-long practice, a practice that overwhelmingly tends to offer advantage to the privileged white elite (since the majority of legacy applicants to our nation’s top schools are white and since they’re the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of elite college grads, they’re often privileged too!), eliminating the practice is not without its downside.

Legacy Admission Can Finally Benefit Underrepresented Groups

While we echo our call today for an end to the practice of legacy admission, we do recognize the irony that the practice — one that has for decades advantaged mostly white applicants — would be ending just as the children and grandchildren of underrepresented minority alumni are coming of college age and could stand to benefit. As Ashton Lattimore so eloquently writes in an editorial out today for “The Washington Post” entitled “Ending legacy admissions is the right thing to do. But for black alums, it stings.,” “While the likely end of affirmative action is a more obvious setback for diversity and racial justice, the potential elimination of legacy preferences would also be a loss for at least some people of color. It’s been only a few decades since we were welcomed into predominantly white colleges and universities in any significant numbers; we’ve had only a generation or two to begin building our own legacies. So for some of us, the moral rightness of ending legacy preferences to create a more equitable admissions process comes with a bittersweet edge: It adds one more thing to the pile of privileges that people of color can’t pass down to our children as easily as untold generations of whites have done.”

But Legacy Admission Has Got to Go Nonetheless

Lattimore’s point is not one we haven’t made before. We’ve expressed the reservation on the pages of our college admissions blog that while ending legacy admission is the right thing to do, it’s unfortunate that the practice would end just as African American and Latinx young people, among others, could alas benefit from it. But to hear this opinion in Lattimore’s own words sends a powerful message. As an alumna of an elite university, her child stands to benefit from legacy admission. And yet Lattimore is still calling for an end to the practice. In social psychology, they’d deem Lattimore high in what is called source credibility. May Lattimore’s words reverberate around college admissions offices and may the practice of legacy admission once and for all be put to bed.

From atop our soapbox in college admissions, we at Ivy Coach say: “Hey hey, ho ho. Legacy admission has got to go!”


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