The CP Blog


The Legacy Advantage

The acceptances are in and the SIR’s (statement of intent to register) have been returned. Financial aid awards are being appealed and renegotiated – or not. Time to pop the cork on the champagne or just sit back and enjoy a nice refreshing glass of iced tea, depending on your drinking habits and how much stress invaded your household during the college application period. If you’re a student who spent the last half decade or so getting by on 4 hours of sleep trying to redefine the meaning of “achievement” just so you could join the fraternal order at one of America’s premier name brand selective colleges, you are either giddy with joy or contemplating the hard knocks at Big State U. If BSU is your fate then you may already be looking forward four years from now to grad school, where you will assuredly claim your rightful position among those precious few the second time around. What you might not know is to what extent your family connections, or lack of them, affected the decision at old Ivy U.

Well, now we know. If mom or dad went to old Ivy U. you got one heck of a break in the admission process. If grandpa or grandma graduated from there you’re still an IU friend with benefits, though with a little less love than the bear hug you get from the mom/dad connection. If you’re a primary legacy it is not a given that you would have been accepted anyway, despite what alums and mom and dad want you to think. Because even though you may be a straight “A”-over 2100 SAT guy, you also automatically received a 45.1 percent boost in the likelihood of your admission over all those other A-2100’s who applied. If other applicants have a 15% chance of admission, your chances were 60%. Las Vegas would be a ghost town if casinos offered those odds.

Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently published his study that quantifies the impact of legacy in selective college admissions. Overall, any kind of legacy connection can add 23 percent to the likelihood of admission. Goldie Blumenstyk reported the results of his study in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education –

Even more provocative is another finding that the old justifications for legacy admissions – legacy only tips the scale slightly, he/she would just as likely have been admitted, legacy admits increase giving to the university, multigenerational ties are forged and will benefit the university – may be false. Richard D. Kahlenberg edited a collection of essays and studies on legacy admissions called Affirmative Action for the Rich (published by the Century Foundation, distributed by the Brookings Institution) which argues convincingly that none of the old assumptions withstand scrutiny. A full report on the Kahlenberg book may be found in an article in Inside Higher Ed written by Scott Jaschnik at –

The overwhelming advantage for wealthy, white, legacy applicants continues at the same time race based affirmative action has been eliminated in several states and is under fire in many others. Isn’t it time to re-examine the concept of merit and apply it equally across all socio-economic strata in selective college admissions?