Legacy Admissions: Only One of Many Issues with the College Process

Matthew Weng '21, Staff Writer

Since the moment I stepped onto the Island, college applications have been an unwelcome yet persistent factor behind many decisions, from some classes I took to several clubs I joined. “It will look better for the apps,” people always say, prompting me to do one thing after another in hopes of bolstering my applicant profile.

Most of my classmates are in the same boat, endlessly worrying about their applications as early as the fall of their freshman year. However, there are also a select few who do not share the concern as much, those who had a golden ticket, a birthright to circumvent the ruthless slaughterhouse that is college applications: the students with legacy status.

Some students resent them, hate the fact that they have so much of an easier time getting into a college just since their parents or grandparents went there. However, upon further research, this resentment shared by many others is slightly overblown. If I were a legacy student, I would definitely opt to use my legacy status to help my chances of being admitted to a school.

Before I make my case for the legacy students, it must be said that they do get a huge advantage over other applicants. A study showed that students with legacy status, students whose family members previously attended a school, have a whopping 45% higher chance to get into that school compared to other applicants according to a 2020 article in College Transitions. This difference is especially stunning considering most of the schools in the study are competitive colleges with a below 30% rate of admission. It is a very easy argument to make with all the data with similar results to this one that the legacy students are the main contributors to the unfairness of college admissions.

However, these students are far from the only suspects of ruining the fairness in the college process. Policies like affirmative action contribute just as much to unfairness in the admissions process, according to a 2013 article in National Affairs. Said policy also gives people a birth-right advantage, but one based on race, not the place of their parents’ higher education.

Affirmative action was implemented to create a balanced playing field for historically disenfranchised racial groups that are under-represented in universities, such as African Americans and Latinx students. Affirmative action was summarized by an HG Legal article as “giving preferential treatment of socioeconomically disadvantaged people.” As a result of that policy, some racial groups can have test scores and GPA significantly lower than other groups to be admitted.
Of course, this policy was supposed to help promote equality within colleges, but it adds to the inequality within college admissions, with several racial groups significantly outperforming others in test scores while facing a much lower rate of admissions.

Some universities use the excuse of “character” to justify the disparity, but this metric’s lack of clear criteria for judging a student’s personality for admissions makes the argument seem underwhelming and forced. More importantly, affirmative action applies to all members of racial groups, regardless of their status, making the policy much more influential within the admission process.

Another argument against legacy students is the argument of imposter syndrome, where one would feel less deserving and adequate in an environment because of their knowledge that they were admitted due to an outside advantage like a legacy. However, this issue also applies to other policies like affirmative action that gives some students an advantage over the others.

Now, if I were a legacy student, I would use the advantage of legacy to my favor in the admission process. To put it simply, there is no clear way not to. Legacy is not a checkmark that one can just check off like test scores to not be accounted for in their applications. It is nearly impossible to voluntarily give up a legacy status.

While one can choose not to say their parents have affiliation to the school in their application through platforms like Common App, but the education history beyond high school and employment status of parents are required in said platform, making the connection to the school near impossible to hide.

In addition, these legacy students are one of the main sources of income for the colleges to be able to function and even offer financial aid to the less affluent as shown by a 2013 Forbes article. The donations of these wealthy alumni parents of the legacy students drive a lot of programs within colleges, help contribute to facilities, and even help the university afford need-blind financial aid.

The abolishment of the policy would be detrimental to a university’s finances by discouraging many alumni donors, potentially forcing them to raise tuition. In a perfect world, the college would abolish any unfairness within the admissions process and give everyone an equal playing field, but it is impractical, especially when it comes to legacy students due to how this policy helps the funding of schools.

So, while legacy does offer students a birthright, many other policies have the same impact when it comes to admissions. Legacy policies should not be the only factor under constant scrutiny when looking for the cause behind unfairness in college admissions.

If we want a completely fair playing ground when it comes to college admissions, big changes need to be made in the future that includes revolutionary amendments to how colleges are run. For now, the legacy policy is somewhat indispensable and not the only evil students face on the battlefield that is college admissions.