Editorial: Legacy admissions outdated: Colleges should prioritize merit not connections


Photo: Polina Van Hulsen

Divya Gandhi and Felicia Buchholz

College legacy. What even is it?

Unfair. That’s what legacy is.

While it might seem fair or even “nobody else’s business” to people who have them, looking at the bigger scope of the American educational system, they are unfair.

The college admissions process can be one of the most critical times in a student’s life, and there are many factors that determine the results.

This is why Verde believes college admissions should not consider legacy in a student’s application. It is the gatekeeper to higher education and the opportunities that come with it.

According to a 2022 article from College Transitions, primary legacy applicants are 45 percent more likely to get into a highly competitive college than a non-legacy. In addition to this, according to the book “Poison Ivy,” elite schools typically reserve 10-25 percent of their admissions for legacies.

Because of this advantage, the role of legacy in college admissions has long been a controversial topic.

Legacies in college admissions refer to the consideration given to applicants who have a connection to the university through alumni family members.

A 2020 Wall Street Journal states that more than half of the United States’ top 250 universities consider legacy as a part of their admissions process. The additional thought given is believed to have originated from elite institutions to ensure that the children of alumni, who were often also great donors, would continue to support the school and its reputation.

According to a 2020 article in Center for American Progress, the legacy admissions process originated from an idea to keep Jewish students from attending the school but has grown into affecting multiple ethnicities. Generally, there are usually more legacy students than African American, Latino, or Native-American students.

An article in The Atlantic reported that colleges often defend legacy admissions by saying it’s needed for funding by alumni.

However, Palo Alto High School junior Jonathan Liu, who is a legacy, said that legacies are the most effective way to reward alumni for their financial support.

“It [the legacy admissions process] respects the alumni,” Liu said.

From an opposing view, some legacies like seniors Anna Markesky and Elizabeth Fetter say that universities don’t have to find other ways to honor alumni.

“I feel like universities aren’t obligated to [honor alumni],” Markesky said.

Speaking to senior Elizabeth Fetter, we hear her perspective.

“You are paying the school to go there and receive an education, and you should honor the school.

— Elizabeth Fetter, senior

“You are paying the school to go there and receive an education, and you should honor the school, not really the other way around,” Fetter said.

According to an ERN Memorandum document, having generations of the same family attend the same university campus decreases student diversity on campus. “It’s a smaller scope of the same generations of people,” Fetter said. “Especially if the legacy is from 60 years ago, it’s going to be mostly white males who had that legacy.”

While the intentions behind legacy admissions may be a way to honor alumni, it is important to consider the potential negative impacts as well as ensure that the process is equitable for all students. Universities should focus on creating a fair and inclusive admissions path rather than honoring legacy status.