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How Much Does Legacy Status Matter?

Does Legacy Status Matter in College Admissions?

It is a lurking variable that appears in subplots of college admissions stories: legacy status. The myth says that having a parent (or sometimes, another close relative) as an alumnus/a of a university will help students, even C-average students, gain admission to Yale or Harvard, Stanford or Brown.

Whether legacy admissions constitute a form of discrimination based on status, whether legacies add to an institution's history and reputation, or whether a student would rather be "Joe Diggins" not "the son of Alex ('69) Diggins" – legacy status can be an important part of the college admissions process.

But will legacy status help a student gain admission to the most selective colleges in the USA? How much does legacy status matter, really?

The idea of giving preference to a student based on bloodline seems, at its base, ultimately un-American in principle. In recent years, universities have been working to reach out through financial aid and publicity campaigns in an effort to demonstrate their open doors. They want the best students, not just the students from the best or most traditional backgrounds.

Legacy status does matter and can help a student in the admissions process.

A study led by William Bowen of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that within a given range of SAT scores, legacy increased admission likelihood by 19.1 percentage points. Furthermore, children of alumni typically comprise 10 – 25% of the student body at selective institutions across the country. Almost three quarters of selective research universities, and almost all elite liberal arts colleges use legacy status in the application process. It is one line on the application, but one line that can make an applicant more distinct.

Legacy status is no substitute for strong grades, high SAT scores, and overall experience.

While alumni parents can be a boon, students who are legacies are often rejected by top universities, too. The student and his or her oevre of academic work, life experience, and commitment to different groups and activities will be the one under scrutiny – not the parents or their reputations. And competition at the top is tougher than ever. The tale of a competitive student rejected – even with an alumnus parent – is not completely uncommon. However, with strong credentials, the rejected U Penn student may have been accepted elsewhere – Brown, Dartmouth, and Princeton, for example.

The bottom line: legacy status can help a student but is not a guarantee.

Counting on legacy status to convince admission counselors to gloss over 200 missing SAT points or a weak semester in school is foolish, and arrogant. Legacy status can help students, but only if students are in a competitive admission position on their own. Furthermore, while most people think of the Ivies first in legacy admission discussions, legacy status is actually a phenomenon in many institutions, from the top all the way down. Competition at the top remains tight no matter who you are, or who your parents are. Prepare accordingly.


This post is titled, "How Much Does Legacy Status Matter?" It was written by Marta Casey, a writer on Top Test Prep's team.

To learn more about Top Test Prep's programs, call (800) 501 – Prep.

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