Reflection on Legacy Admission

Reflection on Legacy Admission

As our juniors begin to build their application plan and timeline for next fall, we want to update you about the rapidly changing role of legacy admissions. 

As you may know, many colleges and universities have historically given some preference in the admission process to the children of alumni. Studies have found that at some schools, legacy candidates were more than four times as likely to be admitted as non-legacy candidates with similar academic credentials. As recently as 2021, the Harvard Crimson reported that more than 30% of their current students were related to Harvard alumni, and, at Stanford and Cornell, the number is closer to 15%. Indeed, the practice has been most common amongst highly selective institutions, those defined as admitting fewer than 25% of applicants. These colleges have been motivated to admit legacy students at higher rates because they tend to come from wealthier families who may be able to give generously to their alma mater.

But that tide seems to be changing. 

As early as 2014, Johns Hopkins University did away with its legacy preference, and, not long after, Pomona, Amherst, and Wesleyan Colleges announced similar shifts in admission policy. These early adopters explained that legacy preferences were antithetical to their larger institutional commitments to equity and diversity (as legacy admissions overwhelmingly benefit white students), and Johns Hopkins’ president went so far as to call legacy preference in admissions “nakedly aristocratic.” Fast forward to the present moment, in the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action, these policies are under ever-increased scrutiny. In July 2023, the Education Department opened an investigation into the practice, and schools as diverse as the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, and Bryn Mawr College have recently ended their legacy preferences.

What does that mean for you? 

If you are a student planning to apply to your parents’ or grandparents’ alma mater, you do not need to change course. If that school is one of the many great fits you and your College Goals counselor have identified, then stay the course! While you may not receive the extra consideration you once might have, you can still demonstrate your fit for the institution through “Demonstrated Interest” – your supplemental essays, interview (if available), and contact with your admission officer. But like everything in college admission, whether or not your legacy status will help “depends.” There is simply no one rule that applies to all institutions.

The best thing you can do is educate yourself about the practice so you can apply with eyes wide open. To read more, here is a brief Forbes article on The Waning Influence of Legacy College Admissions and for the truly curious, an in-depth report from the Brookings Institution. Finally, this site from Best Colleges includes an updated list by state of colleges who have ended legacy admissions practices as well as a list of those that never used them. We hope you find this helpful!

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