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Legacy admissions have been a longstanding tradition in many American colleges and universities.

This practice involves giving preferential treatment to applicants who have familial connections to the institution, often in the form of parents or grandparents who are alumni.

While legacy admissions have been a contentious issue for years, colleges and universities across the United States are now reconsidering their stance on this tradition, with many institutions opting to drop them altogether.

In this article, we will delve into what legacy admissions are, how they work, and why colleges have historically used them.

We’ll also look at the compelling reasons behind the growing trend of colleges abandoning legacy admissions to pursue greater equity and fairness in the admissions process.

What are legacy admissions in college?

Legacy admissions refer to granting preferential treatment to applicants with a family history or connection to a particular college or university.

This connection typically involves the applicant’s parents, grandparents, or other close relatives being alumni of the institution.

Legacy admissions have become an integral part of the history and identity of some institutions. These colleges view legacy admissions as a way to maintain strong ties with their alumni and preserve tradition and loyalty among their graduates.

Admitting the children and grandchildren of alumni is believed to foster a sense of loyalty among graduates, increasing the likelihood of alumni donations and financial support for the institution.

Legacy applicants are often given a boost in the admissions process, including a higher acceptance rate, lower academic requirements, or special consideration in the evaluation process.

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How are legacy admissions different from other applicants?

The specifics of the preferential treatment of legacy admissions vary from one institution to another, but some common practices include the following.

Lower admissions standards

Legacy applicants may be admitted with lower academic qualifications compared to non-legacy applicants.

This means they may have lower standardized test scores, lower GPAs, or weaker extracurricular profiles and still be accepted.

Higher acceptance rates

Many colleges and universities offer legacy applicants a higher acceptance rate compared to non-legacy applicants.

This means legacy students have a better chance of getting into the school, even if their qualifications could be stronger.

Special consideration

Legacy applicants may receive special consideration during the admissions process, such as personalized interviews or additional letters of recommendation from alumni.

Scholarship opportunities

Some institutions offer scholarships or financial aid specifically for legacy applicants, further incentivizing their application.

Why do colleges give special treatment to legacy admissions?

Legacy admissions have been a longstanding tradition at many colleges and universities, and several reasons have been cited for their continued use.

Alumni relations

Legacy admissions help maintain strong ties with alumni and their families.

By admitting the children and grandchildren of alumni, colleges can foster a sense of tradition and loyalty among their graduates, keeping a large pool of potential donors.


Alumni with a personal connection to the institution are likelier to donate money.

By admitting legacy students, colleges may increase their chances of receiving financial support from alumni.

Institutional reputation

Colleges often argue that legacy admissions contribute to the prestige and reputation of the institution.

They believe that having many legacy students can enhance the perception of exclusivity and tradition.


Legacy admissions can provide a stable source of enrollment.

Since legacy applicants are more likely to accept offers of admission, colleges can predict enrollment numbers more accurately.

Historic tradition

Some institutions view legacy admissions as an integral part of their history and identity, which makes them reluctant to abandon the practice.

Why are colleges now dropping legacy admissions?

In recent years, colleges and universities have been reevaluating and, in some cases, dropping legacy admissions. Several key factors are driving this shift.

Equity and fairness

One of the most significant reasons for abandoning legacy admissions is the concern over equity and fairness in the admissions process.

Critics argue that legacy preferences perpetuate social and economic inequality by giving an advantage to applicants from affluent backgrounds who can afford the high tuition costs of elite institutions.

Diversity and inclusion

Many colleges and universities are placing a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion in their student bodies.

Legacy admissions can be counterproductive to these goals, as they may prioritize applicants from predominantly white, privileged backgrounds over those from underrepresented minority groups.

Public scrutiny

Legacy admissions have come under public scrutiny, with media outlets, activists, and advocacy groups shedding light on the disparities they create.

This increased awareness has pressured colleges to reconsider their admissions policies.

Legal challenges

Some institutions have faced legal challenges related to their legacy admissions policies.

These legal battles have prompted colleges to review and adjust their practices to avoid potential lawsuits.

Changing values

As societal values evolve, colleges are reevaluating their own values and priorities.

Many institutions are shifting away from traditions perceived as outdated or inconsistent with their mission of promoting education and opportunity for all.

Competition for top talent

Colleges are in fierce competition to attract top students.

Some institutions are moving towards a more merit-based admissions system that emphasizes academic and extracurricular achievements over legacy status to remain competitive.

While abandoning legacy admissions is a significant step toward a fairer admissions process, it is just one piece of the puzzle in achieving greater equity in higher education.

Institutions must continue to evaluate and evolve their admissions practices to ensure they provide opportunities for all qualified students, regardless of their family background or legacy status.

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