Amherst College announced last week that it would remove direct admissions preferences for legacy applicants. Amherst joins other eminent institutions, such as Johns Hopkins, MIT, and CalTech, which ignore legacy status in admissions. Yet, legacy preferences remain in place at many of America’s elite institutions. In fact, legacies now play a greater role in admissions than at any time in the past few decades. This is due to a combination of three factors: lack of transparency; the role of donations; and an increased competitive admissions environment.
Legacies are those who have familial ties to a university, most notably children of alumni. Measuring the advantages legacies have in admissions is complicated because universities tightly guard their data. As a result, universities are able to say that legacy is just a “tie-breaker” in admissions, and that legacies as a group are just as qualified as their nonlegacy counterparts without any check on whether this is actually true.
Our own research on legacy preferences uses data made public in the Student for Fair Admissions v. Harvard court case. We find that not only do legacies receive substantial preferences in admissions, these advantages have been growing over time. In the mid-1980s, legacies were admitted at a rate of about 35%—the same rate at which they were in the mid-2010s. But over that same time period the admit rate for those who were neither legacies nor athletes fell from over 12% to under 5%.
Read the full story from Barron’s here.