Many prominent universities have reported record low admissions rates. While we all knew it was difficult to get into top-ranked schools, over time this trend has caused a massive shift for many students when applying to a school of their choice. However, there’s one demographic that isn’t sweating this stat at all.
Legacy admissions have become more relevant, and it’s strangling opportunities for applicants with fewer resources and network connections, and many argue that this is intentional. Legacy admissions are defined as a preference given to an applicant directly related to an alumnus or alumni in their family background. The Harvard Crimson reported that you are three times more likely to get into the university if you had Harvard in your blood. Think Progress reported that Princeton adopted an admission preference in 1922 that consequently saw a drop in its Jewish student population. It has been suggested that many universities made their admissions process more comprehensive in an attempt to cull a more homogenous student body.
Over 29 percent of the students in Harvard’s class of 2021 are Legacy students. Harvard only admitted 5% of the 39,041 students who applied. This means of the 1,952 students Harvard accepted this year, 566 of those were legacy students. This also means that only 3.5 percent of non-legacy students will be lucky enough to gain admission to Harvard. Harvard also has something called the Z-List. It is a list from which selected students, mostly children of wealthy alumni, are guaranteed deferred acceptance to the university before they even apply.
Harvard isn’t the only elite institution with a growing legacy admission rate. “A lot of schools do this on the down-low,” said Amma Ivey, a former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School. “What I applaud Harvard for is that they do it transparently,” Ivey added.
In 2011, Michael Hurwitz reviewed data from 30 top colleges. He wrote in the Economics of Education Review that children of alumni at the time had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. The general acceptance rate for Stanford was 4.7 percent, the legacy admission rate was three times that.
Giving preference to legacy applicants weeds out low-income applicants. Think Progress reported most legacy kids are “rich and white” and describes top institutions as a playground for the 1 percent. A study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce highlights that selective schools should have no issue affording to admit more applicants from low-income backgrounds. The study’s authors, Anthony P. Carnevale, and Martin Van Der Wer wrote that applicants with impressive resumes from the working class would thrive at an elite school. Kids who grew up with fewer resources and still produced results have a higher chance of graduating. They suggest admitting more blue-collar students would “go a long way toward advancing equity in this country — by giving students in poor financial circumstances a far greater chance of succeeding.”
So what’s the point of the university continuing to admit members of the same family? *Mr. Krabs voice* Money, money, money? Maybe. Advocates of legacy admissions suggest it’s to ensure elite alumni continue financial donations to their alma mater. The book “Affirmative Action for the Rich” written by Chad Coffman strongly challenges this theory. Coffman follows seven colleges that discontinued accounting for legacy status during the admissions process between 1998-2008, and he found there was “no short-term measurable reduction in alumni giving.”
Richard V Reeves, author of the book “Dream Hoarders” said, “To operate a hereditary principle in college admissions is unfair.” Reeves about the U.S. education system “The way we organize our education system excludes many of those in the bottom 80 percent, destroying the American Dream, rather than living it.”