Legacy admissions next to go

Legacy admissions are now under
scrutiny following the Supreme
Court’s vote to end affirmative

Right now there are approximately
60,000 students across the United States and
abroad working on a Harvard undergradu-
ate application. From every state and every
background, these students toil to sum up
the events of their young lives and paint a
picture that might get them admitted to the
school of their dreams.
Many Ivy League schools have similar
situations, with tens of thousands of quali-
fied applicants fighting for only a few spots.
At Harvard about 2,000 of these students
will end up admitted, leaving approximately
97% out of luck. The fierce competition at
schools like Harvard has prompted recent
scrutiny into the practices of university
admissions systems. The Supreme Court’s
pivotal decision on affirmative action this
June might be the beginning of a major re-
structuring of university admission, with
legacy consideration now on the chopping
In Students for Fair Admissions v. Presi-
dent and Fellows of Harvard College, the
decision by Chief Justice Roberts outlined
the overthrow of 40 years of precedent in af-
firmative action. However, he also brought
to light other non-merit determinants of ad-
mission to the illustrious school. The argu-
ments presented by Roberts expressed that
affirmative action violates the Equal Protec-
tion Clause by giving certain students ad-
vantages in admission based on something
determined at birth. Although many civil
rights organizations were outraged by the
decision of the Supreme Court, they jumped
on the opportunity to take down another
admissions advantage determined at birth:
legacy status.
Legacy admission is a practice as old as
Harvard itself, where children of alumni get
special treatment in the admissions process.
At Harvard this manifests in the fact that
legacy students have about a 30% chance of
admission rather than the average 3%. The
major defense of institutions harboring leg-
acy admission programs is that they foster
alumni involvement and help bolster dona-
tions to universities. The recent actions by
some alumni groups indicate that alumni’s
feelings about this might be different than
expected. One group of alumni, motivated
by the organization Ed Mobilizer, moved
to withhold funding from their alma maters
until legacy status is no longer considered in
admission. Even if removing legacy admis-
sion consideration reduced funding signifi-
cantly, this type of funding provides only a
small portion of a university’s budget. Do-
nations account for only 9% of Harvard’syearly budget, a budget which had a $406
million surplus last year and is largely fur-
nished by a $50.9 billion endowment fund.
Even in the most extreme case where legacy
admissions are 100% correlated with dona-
tions, most universities that harbor legacy
programs would not find it difficult to re-
Putting an end to legacy admissions also
sports other benefits, namely campus di-
versity. The NAACP recently put out a call
out to 1,600 institutions to end legacy ad-
mission practices. Their rationale expresses
legacy admissions in the form of its racial
impacts. A 2019 study by Peter Arcidiacono
found that 70% of Harvard’s legacy admits
were white. To this end, removing legacy
admissions from the equation might act to
expand the diversity of college campuses,
potentially acting as a counterbalance to the
effects of removing affirmative action. Even
if it does not fully nullify the impact of the
recent Supreme Court decision, maintaining
legacy admissions fails to be justified once
the premise of affirmative action’s fate is
This July, the organization Lawyers for
Civil Rights filed a complaint claiming that
by considering legacy status in their admis-
sions process, Harvard is in violation of the
Civil Rights Act. Since then, the Depart-
ment of Education has officially opened an
investigation into the admissions practices
of Harvard. Only time will tell whether uni-
versities will continue their long history of
nepotism or if the federal government will
step in, broadening equality of opportunity
for many hopeful students.

Post Author: Alan Meyer