What Is a College Legacy?

Dive into the trending topic of college legacy to learn about legacy history, admissions, policies, and more

Updated by Tanya Dutta on 17th October 2020

Growing up, you may have heard about the bountiful college experiences of your parents - their myriad escapades, stories of the common room, notorious professors, and the memories they had woven as students. It is only natural to take inspiration from their tales, wishing to be part of their alma mater. 

A college legacy is a student who has joined an educational institution previously attended by his/her parents. However, under certain norms, a student can also acquire this status because of a currently enrolled, or graduated relative(s). 

Often deemed as a ‘privilege’ by the popular culture, there is more to legacy students than that meets the eye. It extends certain pre and post admission perks, however, in no reality is it a ‘golden ride’ to a superlative college experience. 

Legacy admission has been a burning topic of debate for more than a decade now. Here is our take on the trending subject of college legacies.

Who Are College Legacies?

A student who has enrolled in a college or university formerly attended by the parents, or any other relative(for certain institutions), receives the status of a college legacy. Over the years, educational institutions have shown a ‘preferential eye’ towards the wards/relatives of the institution alumni. Although the candidate’s merit (academic, extracurricular) is a dominant metric for credibility audits, a college/university alumnus in the family may boost your odds in college admissions. 

Legacy Admission - Inception 

The inception of legacy admission goes decades back in history. Once upon a time, education was not a birthright. Educational institutions were gravely distinguished based on caste, creed, and economical status. The wealthy and the privileged received sumptuous treatment for the schools, catering to their whims, and fancies. Money was sparse, and these institutions pre-dominantly pinned their hopes on the fundings by the ‘affluent class’. There have been significant amendments to the serviceability of educational institutions. The U.S Department of Education has commemorated 120 years of stupendous service, extending a plethora of opportunities for every section of the society. 

What is the basis of legacy admissions?

The controversial 2018 issue of the Harvard Crimson reports five times higher legacy admission rates as compared to the non-legacy demographic at Harvard University. Further, there is tangible evidence on the preference of ‘white’ college legacies during college admissions. William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid has, however, negated the preferential treatment to ‘whites’ or legacy applicants. According to the Harvard University Admission, the selection criteria are non-biased and equal for all. 

Legacy admissions have undergone numerous rounds of criticism in the hands of the general mass. Here are few rationales behind increased legacy admissions -

  • A coherent rationale for these preferential admissions is institutional funding. Most institutions hold the perception of college funding (in the form of charities, donations) from its alumni. This funding molds into an instinctive conscience for the alumni with their wards enrolled in the institution

  • Another ground for legacy admissions is community building. There would always be an emotional tie to schools with parental history. This serves for greater admission, lower drop-out, and successful building of an extensive community

  • The third argument for legacy admission is simply that the applicants are worthy of admission. Harvard University Admissions have highlighted merit (of the legacy applicants) as a testimony to their credibility, and evidence to their acceptance in the school 

The privilege of college legacies - A hyperbole 

College legacies sure receive that ‘additional look’ during college admissions. However, a familial history in the educational institution is seldom the only rationale for college admissions. The student’s academic history, extracurricular merit, test scores, volunteerism, community service, and overall persona hold higher dominance during admissions. 

A student with a detrimental character, and poor merit but with a long list and history of familial connection to the school will not be accepted. Legacies are not subjected to ‘blind preference’. They do get that extra ‘nod’, however, it only incorporates for a small portion of the selection methodology. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is strictly against legacy admissions. It is a critic of legacy admissions, and has clearly stated “we don’t do legacy”. Familial ties to the institute have no purpose during the admissions. MIT values credibility through performance, and that is the only way into this world-class educational institution. 

Legacy also comes in handy for early applicants in certain universities. All the ‘early-bird’ college legacies get additional consideration during the admission process. In the University of Pennsylvania, the applicant must be the grandchild of an alumnus to receive the perks of a college legacy. The university offers preference to legacy students with early applications. 

Top Schools With Legacy Policies

College legacy policies have been part of the admission criteria for many educational institutions. Their initiative for building community, and receiving funding in the process has led to the incorporation of certain perks for college legacies during admissions. The ‘elite’ list of educational institutions also have their individual policies for legacy admissions. However, merit is still the predominant factor for admissions. Legacy comes into play when two or more students with similar academic, and extra-curricular prowess undergo evaluation. It acts as a tie-breaker. Certain schools only apply legacy policies for the early-bird entries. Here is a list of the top educational institutions which consider college legacies during college admissions -

What about non-legacy students?

There’s no point in losing sleep if you’re not a legacy. After all, you didn’t have a role to play in your parent’s academic life.  So, don’t be disheartened and discouraged for not being Legacy. Secondly, even in schools that favor legacies, the rate varies anywhere between 10% to 30% which means 70 to 90% of the students are not legacy. So, you are in a good place. Your grades and extracurriculars play a crucial role in your success. At the end of the day, every college wants self-motivated and highly ambitious students. Legacies cannot replace your caliber. 

Legacy status is out of your control, so instead of focusing on that, focus on your strength, and make a good impression. Work on things that are in your control like SAT or ACT score, your GPA, and your extracurriculars. 

Here are a few tips for college admission - 

  • Make a solid and everlasting impression on the admission committee by making your application extraordinary

  • You can write a good essay by stating why you want to be in college and why is it your dream college

  • If you are not a legacy you can not talk about your childhood memories and visiting the college campus or hearing something from your parents about the college

  • Be specific about your reasons. State them clearly and make sure you mention all your strengths and why you are a deserving candidate for the college and how excited you are to attend the college