Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


What are legacy admissions?

April 13, 2012, Posted In Admissions Strategy

Did your parents attend college? Or your grandparents?

If so, you might want to consider colleges they attended when you begin to develop your college list. (Perhaps they’re already pushing you to look at their alma mater.) The practice of admitting students whose parents or grandparents attended a particular institution – sometimes termed “legacy admissions” – has become a controversial topic in recent years, as it is often seen as preferential treatment.

Some colleges have a history of admitting high percentages of applicants who are sons or daughters (or grandsons or granddaughters) of alumni; other colleges are notorious for not taking legacy status into consideration. For most admissions officers, an applicant’s legacy will not matter too much in the admissions process – and so you’ll find that often, the average test scores and GPAs of legacy students are the same as that of students who have no familial connection to a college.

There are some exceptions. If an admissions officer is looking at two comparable applications and only has room to admit one of them – a would-be legacy and a non-legacy – the chances are high that that legacy candidate would be admitted. If this were the case, then the admissions officer would be acting affirmatively on the legacy application.

Some universities – including a few Ivy League schools – outright indicate that there is no advantage given to legacy applicants in the regular decision process, and only if the student applies via early decision will the application be given special consideration. This puts the burden on the applicant: Does he want to apply early to this particular school? Is this his top choice? (If not, then he certainly should not apply early – and in making that decision, he loses the possible advantage that being a legacy would have granted him.)

What is exactly defined as a legacy? Do siblings count?

The definition of legacy might change from university to university. Most will agree that the student needs to be a straight-line descendant – for example, daughter-granddaughter-great-granddaughter – and other relatives (cousins, aunts, uncles) are not considered for the legacy designation. That said, many admissions officers will note that, if many members of a family attend a particular school, there is a strong family tie and the applicant might enroll if admitted, and might be very excited about the school.

Some colleges also look at siblings who have attended, or are currently attending, an institution. While this is also not considered a legacy applicant (if just the sibling, and not the parents, attended), it can also signify to the admissions officer that this applicant is seriously interested in attending.

Legacy status not only connotes the ties and loyalty that a family has to a school. It might also indicate the likelihood that a family will donate money to the college. And, colleges take note of this, especially if the university is cash-strapped. If a college admits a donor’s child, then that donor will likely continue to donate to the school; conversely, if the donor’s child is refused admission, there is a real possibility that the donations will stop.

Colleges take all sorts of factors into consideration – donations, family loyalty, siblings. But they also look at your talents, likelihood of contributing significantly, making a difference, becoming a leader, and creating your own legacy at the school someday. Don’t let your legacy status (or lack thereof) affect whether you’ll apply to a college – it’s just one small piece of the admissions puzzle.