Legacy admissions debated

Faizah Saadmim

After the discrimination lawsuit brought against Harvard by Asian American students and the Varsity blues scandal, the college admissions process has been under immense scrutiny. At the heart of the problem is fairness and equality. Whether the factor is wealth, race or familial connections – does it give students unfair advantages during college admissions?

Legacy admission refers to the preference given to students whose parents or siblings attended that specific university when considering their application for undergraduate admission. Although this policy is apparent at many colleges across the nation, it is mostly a concern at elite colleges of America.

Legacy admission began in 1919 at Dartmouth college and other elite colleges like Princeton and Yale followed in its footsteps. In the past, Yale required legacy applicants to meet a lower standard on the admissions test than regular applicants. More recently, The Wall Street Journal found that Princeton’s legacy admissions are four times the general rate. At University of Virginia and Georgetown University the admission rate for legacies is double the rate for the applicant pool.

Senior Sowmya Potluri’s parents are immigrants and attended school outside of America, making her a non-legacy at all the schools she applied to.

“I wasn’t a legacy anywhere I applied. I don’t think [legacy preference] is fair, but I see the advantage from the college’s end if they are getting a lot of donations from those,” Potluri said.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic research found that 43 percent of white students admitted to Harvard were legacy students, children of faculty and staff or applicants whose parents or relatives have donated to Harvard. Many experts have called legacy admission  “the phenomenon of white affirmative action or affirmative action for the wealthy”.

Senior Andre Gartner who is considered a legacy at Princeton by way of his father, recognizes the advantage legacy students may receive.

“Of course, legacy preferences give some students an advantage over the rest of the field of qualified applicants,” Gartner said.“To value one student over another student that has worked harder to achieve greater success in high school is absolutely unfair.”

According to data from the ivy league schools, legacy students made up 17.5 percent of Cornell University’s class of 2019, 15.5 percent of Harvard University’s class of 2019, and 12.5 percent of Dartmouth’s 2019 admissions.

An anonymous student, who is a legacy at Cornell, realized the unfair advantage attached to that status and decided not to apply to that university and instead applied elsewhere where admissions would be based on merit.

“On all the elite colleges’ applications there is always a spot that asks about your connection to an alumnus of that school. I just don’t think it is fair to give preference to a student for something they had no control over,” the anonymous student said. “I wanted to go to a college that let me in based on what I accomplished and my personal standing.

Potluri qualifies this policy as being one of many aspects in America that undermines the idea that America is a meritocracy.

“Just like in other aspects in the US, college acceptance can sometimes be who you know and not what you know,” Potluri said.