Everything You Need to Know about Legacy Admissions


Like many pieces of the admissions puzzle, legacy admissions and the weight that they carry in an application will vary by school. Ivy leagues in particular are known for including college legacy as a part of the admissions process. Curious about legacy admissions? Read on for more information.

What makes someone a college legacy?

A legacy student is a prospective student who is applying to the same school where their parent graduated.

There is a difference between being a primary legacy, the child of a parent or guardian who graduated with their undergraduate degree, and being a distant relative of an alum. Distant relatives do not carry the same weight. Similarly, Halle Edwards at PrepScholar notes that “If your parents instead got professional degrees and not their undergraduate degrees from the school, it's less likely you'd be counted as a legacy during the undergraduate admissions process.”  

How does being a legacy impact admissions decisions?

Admissions counselors look through hundreds of applications and consider what each prospective student will bring to the college’s student body. According to Business Insider, in a study of 30 elite institutions, “the children of undergraduate alumni ("primary legacies") were, on average, 45.1% more likely to get in.”  

At Columbia, applicants might receive a “slight advantage” for being a legacy. At Harvard, applicants “may receive an additional look.”

The extra look, or slight advantage, could make a small difference. But being a legacy does not mean immediate acceptance.  

Which colleges use legacy admissions?

Not all colleges use legacy admissions, but the ones that do include Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Georgetown. These schools “reserve a small percentage of each incoming freshman class for legacy students.” Most of the time, that percentage is small--relative to the rest of the class.

Meanwhile, many other colleges “explicitly don't allow for legacy preference in admissions decisions” or have removed their legacy policy (NPR).  

How do colleges benefit from legacy admissions?

Similar to other pieces of the admissions puzzle, colleges say legacy admissions is used to cultivate a “healthy and diverse campus and alumni community,” NPR reports.

Some colleges say that legacy admissions has a positive impact on alumni relations. One Harvard committee says that legacy admissions will “cement strong bonds between the university and its alumni.” Likewise, alumni might be more likely to donate money to the school, although one study showed “there is no statistically significant evidence of a causal relationship between legacy preference policies and total alumni giving among top universities.”

Photo by    Andrew Neel    on    Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

What you should know (whether you are a legacy or not)

As you are applying to schools, keep the following in mind:

1. Being admitted is not  guaranteed.

Legacy applicants and other applicants alike must have a competitive, quality application to make it to the final round. Bring your best self to every part of the application process. And remember, difficult does not mean impossible.

2. Authenticity is more powerful than name dropping.

Tread carefully when mentioning a family connection in your college essays, especially when the college does not use legacy admissions as a part of their decision process. Take MIT for example, an Ivy League that is proud to never include legacy admissions as a part of the decision process. Chris Peterson, Assistant Director of MIT admissions, says, “one of the things most likely to elicit a gigantic facepalm is when a student namedrops some incredibly attenuated connection because they think it is going to help them get into MIT.”

If you are name dropping for the sake of name dropping to a school that doesn’t taken legacy into account, admissions officers will read right through that. However, if you’re genuinely drawn to a certain college because your Aunt Susan used to bring you to the campus and tell you about the good old days, tell that authentic story in one of your essays. You can find more of our essay writing tips here.