A Legacy of Investment: A Dissenting Opinion

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If you haven’t already, please read our publication’s original editorial against the use of legacy preference in college admissions. While this is a dissenting opinion, the original piece makes some valid points. I agree that many grievances should be taken up with colleges, and that we should not blame students who take advantage of the opportunities they have. 

I’m not arguing that colleges should admit more legacy students than they currently do, but rather that a small preference for legacy students is justified. Legacy students typically have a vested interest in succeeding at the school and have a more in-depth knowledge of the school’s culture, values, and goals, making them appealing candidates for universities. 

Some tend to assume that the vast majority of legacy students who get accepted into that university are unqualified, when in reality they are only maybe slightly below the GPA average of a given school. 

There’s a common misconception that legacy students are less academically inclined than the average student at that school. Legacy students are often more invested in graduating, simply because they have a familial pressure to succeed. 72% of those who drop out from US Colleges do so for non-academic reasons. If there is a 7% legacy dropout rate within universities, regardless of consideration of legacy, and only 28% of those students cite academic issues, then only 1.96% of legacies drop out for academic reasons. This is compared to a 3% average dropout rate of non legacy students at elite schools due to academic disqualification. 

Also, legacy students aren’t necessarily taking the spots of minority students or those from lower socioeconomic levels. For example, Harvard University’s student population is 39.7% white—2.63 times more than any other race at the school—according to Data USA. Additionally, according to the New York Times, 67% of the student population at Harvard are in the top 20% socioeconomic class, with a median yearly family income of $168,000. Legacy students’ advantage is mostly over the average student at Harvard—who is a well-off white student.  

Some argue that legacy preferences allow parents to ‘buy their child’s way in’ through generous donations. They argue that the schools don’t actually need this money, so schools could get rid of legacy without taking a real hit monetarily. While most elite colleges can function without the donations, building and renovating state-of-the-art facilities, buying new technology and equipment, and providing sufficient financial aid resources, cost money—a lot of it. Sure, schools could keep giving lectures and handing out diplomas without large alumni donations, but one of the biggest pulls of many elite colleges are their brand-new facilities, which can require hundreds of millions of dollars. 

A student who has been immersed in the culture of a school for more years than some of their peers is more likely to know the values and ideals that a school prides itself on. Often legacy students have a more thorough knowledge of a school, creating better essays when it comes to the infamous “Why Us?” essay on college applications. 

I’m a legacy at Stanford. I know that while this gives me an advantage, my chances of getting in are still very slim. But, one of my advantages is knowing a lot about the school’s values and culture. My interviewer asked me the classic question, “Why Stanford?” Since I was a young kid, I’ve been going to Stanford Sierra Camp, a summer camp for alumni and their families where the staff is composed of current students at the school. I’ve met at least five students from there who have absolutely changed my life. Whether it was simple conversations that altered the way I saw things and approached issues, or more serious issues where they helped connect me to resources and support, I now have a very strong perception of the type of student Stanford values and the university environment. It’s something I was easily able to talk about in my interview, and I wove my previous knowledge into the essay portion of my application. Since I’m a legacy, I have a greater understanding and appreciation of Stanford, which was a major factor in my decision to apply. 

Legacy isn’t a magical ticket into the school, but it does give students the advantage of experience. They have more than a quick website search or college tour to pull from to explain why they want to attend the school. Colleges look at applications holistically, and a student who knows more about what sets that school apart from others is naturally going to be more appealing to the admissions officers. 

There are definitely schools who favor legacy students too much. But a small advantage for students who have a more in-depth knowledge of a school’s values makes sense.


Kira Jones is a senior here at M-A! It’s her first year of journalism, but she’s been loving writing and researching about the history of fashion trends, and hopes to also write about local community issues. She hopes to continue journalism in college.

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