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Does Legacy Matter In College Admissions?

Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

When filling out college applications, among listing qualifications and GPA, your child will also have to check a box indicating if someone in your family attended the school. Why? Legacy admissions.

Legacy admissions is the practice of giving preference to an applicant who has parents or other family members who graduated from the particular school. The practice is typically most prevalent at top colleges and universities, such as in the Ivy League or other highly ranked schools. In some cases, if parents are generous donors to the school, legacy admissions can be especially important because the school may be interested in maintaining a positive relationship with financially supportive alumni. Certainly, if a family has a long line of alumni and a long history with a college or university, they will be especially disappointed if their child is rejected, potentially damaging a valuable alumni relationship.

Legacy admissions is controversial, as many worry about instances where less qualified students may be admitted over stronger candidates simply because of their family’s association with the school. However, it is important to note that admissions officers will not admit students who they do not think will succeed, regardless of legacy status. As a result, if it comes down to two similar candidates, the one with legacy status may have an advantage, but legacy is typically not as significant a factor as the rest of the application components.

Overall, it is difficult to gauge the prevalence of legacy admissions in today’s climate as colleges are typically tightlipped about the practice. With that said, if your family has strong ties to a college, it is no guarantee your child will be accepted, though it certainly may give your child’s application an edge. If you don’t have these ties, you should not feel at a significant disadvantage – strong grades and a well-rounded profile continue to be the most important factors in any admissions decision.

(Stephen has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. He is a founder of AcceptU, an admissions counseling group comprised entirely of former admissions officers from highly selective colleges and universities. For questions or to learn more about AcceptU, contact Stephen (stephen@acceptu.com, 617-424-0700) or visit www.AcceptU.com. )

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