The College Board’s recent introduction of the Landscape tool has brought questions about equalizing the admissions process to the fore. We stand with The New York Times’ Editorial Board in calling for one modification to work toward this equality: the end of legacy admissions.
Legacy admissions are inherently unequal. They emerged after World War I as a means to keep mostly Jewish immigrants out of top universities. More recently, a New York Times investigation showed that wealth is the most crucial factor in admissions, as schools are constantly looking to earn the most money they can from tuition. Wealthier students are less of a financial burden on universities, and this cost-benefit analysis is factored into the admissions decision. Accepting the children of alumni guarantees a cycle of affluence for well-connected individuals, even when universities tout their efforts to diversify. With a national student debt crisis, attending expensive universities can be impossible for some lower-income individuals.
Offering students preferential treatment just because their family members went to a particular school undermines the allegedly meritocratic nature of college admissions that values a student’s achievements in and out of class over all else. Colleges should create more equal opportunities for all students, regardless of familial connections. Instead of being judged solely on their test scores, essays and extracurricular involvements like all other applicants, legacy students have the added bonus of a familial connection to the school. This type of admissions creates a qualification based on privilege, not actual ability or achievement.
Nearly half of all U.S. private institutions use legacy status in their admissions process, and critics note that students with this status are usually already in the upper echelon of a school’s applicant pool. Factoring legacy into their applications only adds to the advantages of the most privileged.
Supporters of legacy admissions claim alumni families are likelier to donate, and that these donations could increase financial aid opportunities. However, researchers found that there is no evidence that families of legacy admits donate more to their school than non-legacy admits. For example, while Yale University’s (Conn.) alumni acceptance rate decreased from 24 percent to 13 percent over the past 30 years, total alumni giving actually increased over the same time period. Schools may also view intergenerational admissions as a way to give back to their alumni, but that shouldn’t justify the practice. This preferential treatment for the children of alumni reinforces their existing privilege and connections to specific universities, giving them advantages that other students lack for no good reason.
As an elite private institution, Emory should lead the way in ending legacy admissions to level the admissions playing field. If the University is truly committed to welcoming the best and most diverse freshman class it can every year, it cannot give the most privileged an even better shot at admission to the school. And even if legacy status does not guarantee admission, it provides an unnecessary leg up to individuals who may not have done much else to deserve it.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju and Kimia Tabatabaei.