College legacy: Can this selective privilege be justified?

Becky Han, Staff Assistant

Legacy: a title that, when associated with college admissions, is generally associated with cynical connotations and prejudice.  But what exactly is this “legacy preference,” and why does it offer an unfair advantage to affected students applying to colleges?

The legacy preference is when students with some form of family connection to the school, usually being a child of an alum, are given an advantage in the college admissions process.  The majority of schools ensure that each application of a legacy student gets at least a second read-over, and a few colleges even provide these select students with alumni-only recruiting events and special admissions counselors committed to finding ways to admit them.

“The chances of someone getting into college shouldn’t be dependent upon the achievements of someone else,” said junior Sherry Shi.

With college admission rates at elite universities dropping to an all-time low as of late, the percentage of legacy admissions rates are still much higher.  According to an article from Business Insider, in 2015, Harvard’s acceptance rate was 5.8%, while its legacy admissions rate hovered around 30%.  Likewise, Stanford University, ranked by the Princeton Review as the nation’s No. 1 Dream College in 2016, has the nation’s lowest admissions rate with a mere 4.7% of applicants being accepted.  Every indicator of the college’s admissions process is very selective, except for the fact that the acceptance rate for legacy applicants is estimated as being three times higher than that of the overall applicant pool.

According to a survey from The Harvard Crimson of the Harvard’s Class of 2015, 60.9% students identified themselves as white, whereas 93.3% of legacy students identified as being of Caucasian descent.  This is where the idea of being “born to the right family” comes in, as high schoolers who are generally whiter and richer than their peers are enabled a distinct benefit in getting into college.

Moreover, this “phenomenon” does not only apply to Ivy Leagues; more than 90% of top tier colleges claim that legacy status is considered during the application process.

“I believe that considering an applicant’s legacy during the college admissions process is unfair to students who are raised by parents whose highest education is high school.  Not everyone is financially fortunate, and there are kids who excel in school but are put at a disadvantage because of this,” said sophomore Alexa Adjudanpor.

This directly leads to the question of why colleges have left this legacy preference intact to this day.  With the exceptions of the U.S. and Japan, the preference is unheard of throughout the world.  However, while there has been a decline over the years of the impact of this privilege, it still very much influences the admissions process for numerous educational institutions across our nation.

Universities tend to reply with the justification that admitting more legacy students would carry on school traditions and closer alumni relationships, but the honest answer is that it is quite obviously about money, specifically dealing with the prospect of donations.  An alum who enjoyed their experience at a college and wants their child to attend the same one is more likely to donate to the institution.  Therefore, additional preference is given to heavy donors and affluent families.

This excuse can be easily disproved when examining colleges like CalTech and MIT.  These top schools have eliminated considering legacy in the admissions process, but they continue to thrive with none of the “dangerous” financial problems that other colleges claim they wish to avoid by continuing this preference.  Rather, both universities maintain an active community that continues to sufficiently donate to the institution without the promise of a great benefit for their children in exchange.

Of course, many of those whose parents attended prestigious colleges face immense pressure.  These students have much weight on their shoulders with the idea that they cannot let down their parents or lose this legacy opportunity.  In addition, it is no question that many children of alumni are brilliant themselves and deserve to get into the college even if their legacy had not been considered.  Many of these types of students therefore get stereotyped from their peers, and this is a whole other injustice.

Nonetheless, it is essential to modify this preferential treatment of children of alumni.  Getting accepted into a college should not depend on the success of a student’s relatives, but rather their own accomplishments.  Legacy offers a significant advantage to the students who are labeled by it, and the effects of this preference impacts a large amount of other applicants as well.  While it may be difficult to completely eliminate this unjust privilege, it is absolutely necessary to reform it to at least minimize its far-reaching impact in the college admissions process.