Is Legacy in the College Admission Process Fair?


As a high school student and soon to be college attendee, the college admissions process never leaves the back of our mind. Since stepping foot in high school, everyone around us is constantly checking off boxes from a list they believe will lead them to their top college choice. These goals and activities include a high level course load, extracurricular activities, involvement in sports, community service, leadership positions, and much more. There is no doubt that stress haunts every high school student who hopes to attend college after graduation. While it’s evident that determined students in every high school put themselves through what they believe will benefit them in the future, a quirk in the admission process tips the scale. Should the fact that a parent or ancestor attended a student’s dream school raise their chance of acceptance?

Legacy is an unfair aspect of the college admission process, giving more of a chance to the students who had alumni parents compared to those who didn’t. If you have two students who are equally as hard working, academically successful and well rounded, it’s likely that legacy will be used as the tie-breaker. But what exactly is legacy?

A legacy is someone who is related to an alumnus of a school — usually a child of the graduate. This isn’t just a policy of top schools like Harvard, either. According to a 2018 survey of admissions directors by Inside Higher Ed, forty-two percent of private institutions and 6 percent of public institutions factor legacy into admissions. This process will always benefit already privileged students. If your parent went to Harvard, it follows that you’d already be in a fairly good position to get into an elite college, because you’d have the benefit of intimate knowledge of that system. Therefore, legacy is like an extra bonus for an already shining application. Also, wouldn’t a student who hasn’t been lucky enough to have parents with a prestigious college degree have more to gain from one?

About 14% of Harvard’s student body are legacy students. These students are still a minority of their campuses, but they represent a deeper issue in American society as a whole. They are members of a self-sustaining aristocracy, as outdated as the racial prejudices that ushered them into the halls of power a century ago. The admissions process should be fair, not influenced by a birth lottery. Enough of this world benefits those born into power. Why must the college admissions process do so as well?