The Legacy Problem in Admissions

Legacy in Admissions, Admissions Legacy, Legacy Status in College Admissions
An editorial in “The Daily Northwestern” shines a lantern on legacy status in admissions (photo credit: Amerique).

Legacy admission, the practice of offering preferential treatment to the progeny of alumni, is a practice we have attacked from atop our soapbox in college admissions for many years. Indeed, we have called for an end to legacy admission and we have outlined why it’s an anachronism of the twenty-first century that’s got to go — and fast. Recently, we came across an editorial in “The Daily Northwestern” that argues the real problem with college admissions isn’t Affirmative Action, it’s legacy admission. The columnist is right.

Now don’t get us wrong, we don’t agree with everything Andrea Bian writes in her piece for “The Daily Northwestern” entitled “The real problem with college admissions isn’t Affirmative Action; it’s legacies.” For instance, she writes, “When I applied to Northwestern a year ago, I chose not to check the “Asian” box on the Common Application. I definitely wasn’t alone — most of my Asian-American peers and friends chose not to, either. As a high school senior, I was repeatedly told to not disclose my ethnicity anywhere on my application, as it would decrease my chances of admission.” That’s incorrect. Asian American applicants should absolutely check their race on college applications; she got some bad advice. Admissions officers don’t discriminate based on race alone. Rather, they discriminate when applicants present stereotypes of that race, when they don’t present as all that different from too many Asian American applicants.

But we do — for the most part — agree with Bian’s rationale for why legacy admission has got to go. As she articulates, “I’m sure most legacies admitted to Harvard and other universities are qualified and deserve to receive admission. But the significantly high admit rate allows them to get in with easier standards. It can be translated as Affirmative Action for mostly white, wealthy people.” She’s spot on that legacy admission overwhelmingly favors white, wealthy folks. She’s also spot on that legacy admission allows these applicants to earn admission with easier standards, although she shouldn’t be so sure that all legacy admits are “qualified and deserve to receive admission.” Some, yes. But not all!

Bian continues, “Legacy students should be held to higher rather than easier standards, specifically because they usually grew up with additional privileges. Admitting them because of family ties indicates a blatant prioritization of money and donations over what a student can bring to a campus’ community. Affirmative Action is necessary to maintain a campus environment where students can interact with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Legacy admissions are not.” Well said, well said!


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