The Practice of Legacy Admission Has Got To Go

Legacy Admission, Legacy Status, Legacies in Admissions

It’s high time to end the practice of legacy admission.

From atop our soapbox in college admissions, we’ve been calling for an end to the practice of legacy admission for many years. We’ve shouted, “Hey hey, ho ho legacy admission has got to go.” We’ve written editorials that have raised the question of whether or not legacy admission is a violation of tax law, specifically 26 U.S. Code § 170. Legacy status is most valuable to an applicant in admissions when that child’s parents or grandparents have been major donors to the university. But these folks aren’t supposed to receive anything in return for their tax-deductible donations…yet their children are receiving preferential treatment in admissions. It’s a point we will not stop making because so many folks argue that legacy admission is unfair (it is!), but so few make the point that it could actually be a violation of law. We will make this point until we’re red in the face.

The Advantage of Legacy Applicants

A “Wall Street Journal” article by Melissa Korn entitled “How Much Does Being a Legacy Help Your College Admissions Odds?” discusses the statistical advantage of legacy applicants at various highly selective colleges. As Korn notes, the legacy admit rate at Notre Dame, UVA, and Georgetown about doubles the rate of the overall applicant pool. At Harvard, the legacy rate is about five times the overall admit rate. At Princeton, it’s four times the overall admit rate. You get the idea. The numbers speak volumes, wouldn’t you say?

And yet so many highly selective colleges would have you believe that legacy applicants have only a slight advantage. One common refrain is that legacy status only gives an applicant an edge over another applicant if all else is equal. And that, our loyal readers, is utter and complete nonsense. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. But let’s drive that point home if we haven’t already done so.

The Additional Look for Legacy Applicants

As Korn writes in her piece, “On an alumni website, Duke says its admissions officers ‘give special consideration to [legacy] applicants, including an additional round of review.’ The school also says academic achievement is the most important factor in admissions…Columbia University’s undergraduate admission website refers to a ‘slight advantage’ for ‘extremely competitive’ candidates whose parents attended Columbia, while Harvard’s site says that among ‘similarly distinguished applicants,’ those whose parents attended Harvard’s undergraduate college ‘may receive an additional look.'”

“Slight advantage.” “May receive an additional look.” Our eyes are rolling. Yours should be too. Let’s call it what it is — a major advantage. A 2 X advantage, a 4 X advantage, a 5 X advantage! It’s like the New York Knicks going up against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors don’t have a slight advantage. With the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, their starting lineup consists of five all-stars. The advantage of legacy applicants is not slight — it is extreme. And it’s time to end this advantage once and for all.


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