The Ivy Coach Daily

July 19, 2023

Why Do Top Colleges Use Legacy Admissions?

Students walk under the arch at the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of Pennsylvania ceased releasing legacy admissions statistics in 2020 (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

With the Supreme Court striking down Affirmative Action, or the practice of offering preferential treatment in college admissions decision-making to underrepresented minority applicants, it seems somewhat hypocritical that legacy admission, or the practice of offering preferential treatment in college admissions decision-making to the progeny of a school’s alumni-base, would be allowed to continue.

So let’s dive into why America’s top colleges use legacy admissions in the decision-making process and if we at Ivy Coach expect the practice to be eliminated — or even outlawed — in the future.

Elite Colleges Love Generational Donations

It’s first essential to understand why America’s most highly selective universities value the children and grandchildren of their alumni to the tune of offering them increased odds of admission. In short, it comes down to creating generational loyalty to the institution so that the family — and each successive generation — continues to donate to meet the institutional needs of the time. After all, tuition at most elite universities covers about half of a student’s education. Colleges thus rely on donations to cover the other half.

Legacy Applicants Have Advantages in Early Admission Rounds

And it’s not like only families who donate $10 million or more to a university enjoy preferential treatment in admissions for future generations. Students from families who have donated even a few hundred dollars a year for many years since the previous generation’s graduation benefit from legacy admissions.

As but one example, at the University of Pennsylvania, as we’ve reported, between 2017-2020, 22-25% of Early Decision admits to the Ivy League institution qualified as legacies (or an average of 24%!). UPenn’s admissions office ceased sharing legacy statistics from 2021-2023. And we, quite obviously, understand why!

The End of Legacy Admissions Is Near

Elite Colleges Can No Longer Justify Legacy Admission After SCOTUS Ruling

But we at Ivy Coach believe the end is near for legacy admissions, a practice we’ve long deemed a violation of our tax code (parents should not receive anything in return — like increased odds of admission for their children — in exchange for tax-deductible donations). In that same Daily Pennsylvanian article in which UPenn’s history of offering preferential treatment to legacy candidates is examined, we even stated that legacy admission is “on its last legs” — and that was before the Supreme Court ruling outlawing Affirmative Action.

As Jared Mitovich writes for UPenn’s newspaper, “[Ivy Coach’s Brian] Taylor said the Operation Varsity Blues scandal has also helped put legacy admissions ’on its last legs,’ but if the Supreme Court eliminates affirmative action, universities would not be able to justify maintaining any legacy bump.”

Ivy Coach’s Crystal Ball Forecasts the Fall of Legacy Admission in Next Several Weeks

And now that the Supreme Court has outlawed Affirmative Action, we believe — and Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball forecasts — that legacy admission will be eliminated not in the next several months or years but in the next several weeks. These schools cannot continue to justify offering preferential treatment to the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of alumni when underrepresented minorities are receiving no bump in admissions. After all, America is a meritocracy — not an aristocracy.

So, over the next several weeks, don’t be surprised if several elite universities announce the end of legacy admission. These schools will join Amherst College, Johns Hopkins University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in no longer offering preferential admissions to this demographic.

Harvard Will Blaze the Path to End Legacy Admission For Others to Follow

And, yes, our crystal ball predicts that Harvard University, the school that defended the practice of Affirmative Action before our nation’s highest court and is now facing litigation for maintaining legacy admissions in the wake of the decision, will be the next school to announce the end of the practice. Because where Harvard goes, the rest of America’s elite colleges tend to follow. Stay tuned!

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