The Practice of Legacy Admissions

According to a Purdue University study, the practice of legacy admission all began at Dartmouth College (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

We at Ivy Coach have long called for the abolishment of the practice of offering preferential treatment in admissions to the progeny of alumni. And while we are deeply heartened by Johns Hopkins University’s recent proclamation that the school has eliminated legacy admission, we believe in the creed of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.” If Johns Hopkins really has eliminated legacy admission, we want its admissions office to release data going forward on the percentage of students who are legacies in each incoming JHU class. Of course, we suspect Johns Hopkins will release no such data. But speaking of legacy percentages, what percentage of the incoming classes at some of our nation’s top schools are the progeny of alumni, you ask?

Legacies Abound in the Ivy League

For last year’s incoming class — the Class of 2023 — 12% of Dartmouth College students are legacies. The same figure of 12% holds true at Yale University. At Princeton University, 14% of students in the Class of 2023 are legacies. At Cornell University, 16.7% of its first-year students are legacies. As Emily Zhang reports for America’s oldest college newspaper, The Dartmouth, in a piece entitled “Legacy admissions has a complicated history at selective schools,” “But at Dartmouth, as well as other highly selective schools, legacy status has had, and continues to have, a noticeable presence in admissions. In contrast to the stark change in Johns Hopkins legacy admission policies, dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that the College has not changed its legacy admission practices over the past decade.”

An Imperfect Proposal to Reducing the Number of Legacy Admits

These numbers, in our humble opinion, are simply too high. And while we fully recognize that our longstanding proposal to address the legacy issue is a flawed proposal, it remains the best proposal we’ve seen. So what do we suggest? Ending the practice of legacy admission can have terrible consequences (e.g., first-generation college students, underrepresented minorities, low-income students depend on donations from alumni — and some legacy students are the children of these very donors). If legacy admission were outright eliminated, many of our nation’s colleges would have to dip into their endowments to subsidize the cost of educating these deserving groups — and they’d be reluctant to do so. So we’ve suggested only offering preferential treatment in admission to the children of major donors. And while we too dislike the fact that these young people would have a leg up in admissions, at least the legacy pool wouldn’t consist of 12% – 16.7% of the incoming class. That figure can be knocked down tremendously!

While you’re here, do you know where legacy admission all began? As Zhang reports, “A study by Purdue University found out that Dartmouth was the first college to start the practice of legacy preference in 1922, as ‘part of a much larger nativist response to the growing presence of religious minorities who did not share the nation’s Protestant heritage.'”


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1 Comment


    How does the number of legacy applicants at those schools compare to the number of legacies attending? Are the yield rates the same for legacy acceptances there as well as non-legacy acceptances? It seems that this information would be useful in evaluating the statistics cited.

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