Legacy Boosts College Admissions
When it comes to college admissions, “legacy” means the applicant potentially receives some sort of preferential treatment by having had a parent graduate from that school, and sometimes a grandparent, sibling or even an aunt or uncle. There’s no question it’s an actual thing.
That said, there are no guarantees that being a legacy will push you over the top; in almost all cases, your credentials still have to measure up to the standards of the school. But it definitely makes a difference at some institutions if all else is equal between students. Princeton, for example, has about a 6 percent admissions rate overall; for legacies, that number skyrockets to around 30 percent. According to a 2018 survey of admissions directors by Inside Higher Ed, 42 percent of private institutions and 6 percent of public institutions factor legacy status in admissions. On the flipside, schools such as Cal-Berkeley, Texas A&M, MIT and Caltech pay no mind to whether someone’s a legacy. Neither does the University of Illinois, for that matter.
Some colleges are pretty open about their favoritism toward legacies. Harvard and Northwestern both ask on the application if anyone in the person’s family graduated from there, and the University of Virginia actually has a formalized legacy assistance program.
Why legacy matters
The obvious question is, what’s in it for the colleges? For one, a sense of certainty, meaning the school has a higher degree of confidence that the student will graduate. It’s important to understand that most legacy kids are qualified for the college to which they’re applying—they have good grades and test scores. If you look at statistics, students who excel typically have parents who are college educated and are at an elevated income level. On the whole, legacy candidates are as strong or stronger than regular candidates.
It’s also a way for a college to build a pipeline to future qualified candidates, to extend the institution’s culture and brand outward. Legacies are deemed particularly important at small schools such as the Illinois-based schools Elmhurst College, Illinois Wesleyan and Knox College. These colleges like to foster a real sense of community—and what’s a great way to go about that? To keep spreading the love down the lineal line, so to speak.
Legacy will continue to remain part of admissions decision-making at colleges across America. So, take heart if your top choice is the school your dad or mom attended. The application process sometimes seems like a lottery, and being a legacy candidate makes it feel a little less so.
PFA provides college planning guidance for high school students and families. For more information about PFA’s College Admissions Program click here.
Tracy Mehr is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Mehr and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.