Is it time to end legacy admissions?

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by Maya Shah, Beats Editor GPA, extracurriculars and test scores: all predictable factors in the college admissions process. Yet it is legacy admissions that prioritize students who already have long standing connections to the schools from which their parents graduated. By opening doors for the previously privileged, the legacy system shuts out both religious and...

by Maya Shah, Beats Editor

GPA, extracurriculars and test scores: all predictable factors in the college admissions process. Yet it is legacy admissions that prioritize students who already have long standing connections to the schools from which their parents graduated. By opening doors for the previously privileged, the legacy system shuts out both religious and racial minority students by providing an easy route to admission for well established students. While the admission of legacy students has become a tradition, the unfair results suggest it’s time to abandon the practice altogether. 

After excluding people of color for hundreds of years, the country’s top schools are nothing short of an accumulation of white wealth. Legacy admissions further fuel the white foundation of higher education by disproportionately accepting students from traditionally privileged communities. As NBC News finds, roughly 70% of legacy students are white, so the initiative does nothing to help diversify education and open up opportunities for disadvantaged students. Introduced to the Senate in February of 2022, the recent proposition of the Fair College Admissions Act is long overdue — the proposal aims to eliminate the consideration of legacy status nationwide. 

The origins of legacy admissions are no better than their present day implications. Dating back to the 1920s, the decade marked an unprecedented quantity of applications from minority students, especially Jews. As examined by Berkeley professor Jerome Karabel in his book, “The Chosen,” highly-ranked universities implemented a series of non-academic criteria in order to limit the number of minority students admitted each year. Many of these criteria, including a requirement that Yale interviewers list the physical characteristics of applicants, have either died out or been banned, yet legacy admissions persist. 

While some universities have made great strides toward ending legacy admissions, most recently Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College, others willfully resist the change. As found by the Daily Princetonian, legacy students comprise a bigger portion of Princeton’s class of 2025 than Black students, despite making up only 2% of total applicants. If Princeton’s own students can recognize this flaw, why can’t the administration?

The argument made by most schools, including Princeton, is that legacy admissions help form a tighter connection between alumni and the university. This provides schools with stronger donor bases and increased funds and connections. However, as 19 of the top 20 colleges are private, these institutions are in no crisis when it comes to money. In 2021, Harvard’s endowment hit an astounding $52 billion, continuing its reign as the wealthiest university in America. Likewise, this supposed alumni community should not be strengthened by monetary promises, but rather be earned by the quality of experience provided at the school. 

While it’s hard to justify ending tradition, it is undoubtedly time for change. As colleges more heavily consider affirmative action and first generation students, the desire to move toward equitable education is apparent. However, this cannot fully be achieved until the systems that have fueled discrimination for decades are dismantled. As the college admissions process constantly evolves, it is important to call into question traditions that have passed as normal for so long. The country has changed since the 1920s and it is time colleges follow suit. 


Maya Shah can be reached at [email protected]

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