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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

What are Legacy Admissions? Everything you Need to Know

What are Legacy Admissions?

Legacy admissions refer to a university giving preference to an applicant whose relative attended the school. If a close relative of an applicant, typically a parent, was an alumni of the institution, the applicant is more likely to receive admission consideration. Some institutions use a wider definition of legacy and grant admission to those whose more distant relatives such as a grandparent, sibling, aunt, or uncle attended the school.

Once admitted, students may be called legacies or legacy students. Legacy admissions are a very American concept. It is widespread in the United States. However, in other nations it is largely obsolete. About three-quarters of all research institutions in the U.S. use legacy admissions. The vast majority of liberal arts colleges also use legacy admissions. That said, some of the most prestigious institutions, such as MIT, have refrained from the practice.

However, despite the practice being widespread, exact numbers for how many students are admitted due to legacy each year is quite sparse. Even among those that have released numbers, the numbers vary quite widely. For example, according to The Hoya, for the class of 2024, Georgetown University admitted 9% of all of their legacy applicants. For Princeton, the class of 2025 was composed of 10% legacy admits. This equates to just 150 students out of the 1,498 class. Across all Ivy Leagues, it’s estimated that 10-15% of admits each year are legacies.

According to a study in The Century Foundation Press, compared to regular applicants, Princeton granted 4.5 times the number of admission offers to their legacy applicants in 2009 (41.7% of legacy applicants compared to 9.2% of normal applicants). Brown, in 2006, admitted 33.5% of their legacy admits and 13.8% of the regular applicant pool.

When comparing the percentage of legacy admits in the early decision cycle to the regular admission cycle, we see similar numbers. The University of Pennsylvania admitted 41.7% of their early decision legacy admits in 2008 compared to 29.3% of other students who applied early decision. In the regular admission cycle, they admitted 33.9% of legacies and 16.4% of all other applicants. It’s clear that among Ivy Leagues, legacy admission rates are 2-5 times higher than overall rates.

There are many arguments for legacy admissions, but there are just as many arguments against the practice. In this piece, we break down the pros and cons of legacy admissions and why some schools maintain the practice whereas others let it go a long time ago.

Arguments For

Of course, many alumni of prestigious institutions who have children do not want to eliminate legacy admissions. Legacy admissions have been shown to benefit these students. Cornell’s admission rate of alumni’s relatives dropped substantially after they removed legacy admissions. Even though children of alumni still apply, not knowing legacy status did decrease chances of legacy admission. An analysis in 2005 showed that being a legacy increases one’s chances of admission at selective universities by 19.7%. It’s estimated that applying as a legacy is the equivalent to scoring 160 points higher on the SAT.

Of course, a legacy won’t be offered admission if they aren’t qualified to attend a school. Universities still have reputations to uphold and students must be able to perform and graduate from the school they attend. Being a legacy is just one factor on an application. If a legacy has a poor GPA, poor test scores, and doesn’t have the necessary qualifications for admission, they won’t be offered it. If a legacy does have all of those qualifications, the legacy title may make them extra appealing.

Legacy admissions can greatly benefit a university. There is the potential for increased donations from alumni who have had offspring admitted to the university. Alumni donations are an important part of school revenue and therefore keeping alumni happy, in part by admitting their relatives, is an appealing tactic.

Legacy admits can also greatly improve a school’s reputation. Universities care about their yield, or the percent of applicants who are granted admission who actually say yes, and enroll at the university. A higher yield makes a school look more appealing to future applicants and more competitive by nature. Someone who applies as a legacy is more likely to say “yes” when they receive an admission offer. For legacies who apply early decision, the choice to admit is essentially a no brainer. However, the emotional connection legacies have make them more likely to commit to the school regardless of which admissions deadline they use.

Arguments Against

For all of the arguments for legacy admissions, there are just as many against. A bill was proposed in Congress to prevent all universities from receiving federal funding if they used legacy admissions. There have also been bills proposed of a similar vein in various states such as Connecticut and New York. For instance, Colorado banned funding to schools with legacy admissions. Johns Hopkins banned legacy admissions on their own accord in 2014 which reduced the number of legacies admitted from 13% to 4% according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some are opposed to legacy admissions because they favor relationships over academic merit. Others argue that in practice they favor an increased admittance of white students due to the history of increased education of this population. For instance, at Dartmouth, for the class of 2025, 136 legacies were admitted and 120 black students were admitted. There were 8 black legacies who received admissions offers. 73% of all universities who have an acceptance rate of 25% or less use legacy admissions. Of those, most legacy admissions are of white students.

The Future of Legacy Admissions

The future of legacy admissions is still unclear. However, as of now, they are an integral part of many universities' admissions process.

Students who are looking to apply to colleges shouldn’t worry much about legacy admissions. They’re a part of the process outside of a student’s control if they aren’t a legacy. If students are a legacy, it’s something that could assist their application. But remember, if the student’s other stats don’t match the school’s admissions standards, a legacy note won’t lead to acceptance.


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