The Role of Legacy Status in the College Admissions Process

By Catherine Groux
Posted January 07, 2013 10:00 AM

Does legacy status matter during the college admissions process?
Does legacy status matter during the college admissions process?
When students attend the same college as a family member, they are given what is known as legacy status. Many individuals think that, because they would be a legacy at a prospective school, they will have a better chance of being accepted. However, how much does legacy status actually matter in the modern college admissions process?

An Advantage Over the Competition

In 2011, a researcher at Harvard University found that students' family connections may indeed impact how likely they are to get into a prospective school, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. After examining legacy status at 30 highly selective colleges, the researcher found that when all other admissions factors are taken into account, legacy applicants have a 23.3 percentage point boost in the likelihood they will be admitted. If their mother or father attended the university, making the student a "primary legacy," they had a 45.1 percentage point advantage over their peers.

While the Harvard study used a relatively small sample size, Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told the Chronicle that it shows that legacy status does indeed matter during the college admissions process.

"The takeaway to me is that here's a study that seeks to control for a number of factors and finds that legacy status is even more important than previously thought," Kahlenberg said. "It's more evidence that this is not a feather on the scale."

Not a Deciding Factor

While legacy status might give students a leg up on the competition, that does not mean that they will receive an acceptance letter because of it, regardless of how they perform academically. The 2011 Harvard study found that the lower students' SAT scores were, the less their legacy status helped them during the admissions process. Michael Hurwitz, author of the report, said this shows that colleges still find it hard to justify admitting legacy students if they are not academically strong.

At the same time, many elite schools say that while legacy status matters, this does not mean they accept all legacies who apply. Jeffrey B. Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, told The New York Times that only 10% of Yale's 2010-2011 undergraduate class were legacies.

"We turn away 80% of our legacies, and we feel it every day," Brenzel said.

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