Mosaic Admissions

The Legacy Advantage

Here’s an interesting article from today’s on-line edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education about the impact of legacy status on college admissions.  Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, studied the impact of legacy status at 30 elite U.S. colleges and found that legacy applicants gained a 23.3-percentage point increase in their probability of admission.  If an applicant was a “primary legacy” (his/her parent attended the college) the increase was 45.1-percentage points.  In other words, if a non-legacy applicant’s chance of gaining admission to a college is 15 percent, an identical applicant who is a primary legacy will have a 60 percent chance of getting in.  That’s clearly a significant advantage!

We all know that legacy status plays a role in college admissions, particularly among the most selective schools.  For example, 13% of Princeton’s current freshman class is comprised of legacies.  There are reasons for legacy preference, although one may not be what you probably assume – that alumni whose offspring are given the “golden ticket” into a college tend to reward their alma mater with generous financial contributions.  In fact, studies have found no correlation between legacy admission and alumni contributions.  Legacy status is a way that admissions officers can differentiate between two applicants who are highly qualified and primarily equal in merit.  It’s a way that colleges can perpetuate their “family,” and give back to former students.  Although I yearn for a system that judges applicants on purely meritocratic criteria, the reality is that applicants of different types – athletes, minorities, legacies, international applicants – are typically evaluated differently.

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