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I think UC system nowadays is very much like Texas system, where top 10% of class is pretty much guaranteed a spot at UC's most selective campuses.
I think that in order for a paper to truly count for colleges, the applicant has clearly be the main author who had initiative and didn't get handheld by a summer program. I don't think that's the case here.
I think all 3 had a similar profile in the video and can all fit in the Ivy league colleges but they had a low-ish chance (~20%) at getting into even 1 HYPSM (if race wasn't a factor).
I will say that it sounds like Ryan got in because of his race. This is the statistics speaking.
Using estimated numbers: if an applicant only has a ~20% chance to get in ignoring race but a 80% chance of getting in when taking into account race...
I interviewed for a HYPSM school and have spoken with several students who did a similar level of published research. Most times they were obviously passionate the research, drawing diagrams on my notepad, and acted like they could have talked all day about it.
I think that athletes, legacies and wealthy donors add more to the campus than affirmative action recruits because the affirmative action recruits are the culturally same upper middle to upper class type of person like everyone else just with a different skin color.
What do legacy and donor-kid students (as opposed to perhaps their parents and their donations, for whose kids the college admission preferences are effectively like an aristocratic inheritance) add to the campus over other students?
The kids are probably going to have an enjoyable four years, do fine in the classroom, have a great time outside it (often having leadership roles in various student organizations / clubs), collect their credentials and be very well-positioned to go into their chosen field, where they may already have personal connections. Apart from finance, consulting and tech, many of them will go into academia, government service, politics and any number of other areas.
Summarizing reply #3834, legacy students are valued for parental money and parental connections, not for their own personal achievements beyond a high baseline that everyone has to meet for elite-admissions schools. In comparison, "unhooked" students had to earn their places with even higher achievements.
However, they're unlikely to be more "qualified" than totally unhooked students as a group. If they were, why would they need the legacy preferences in the first place?
I would suggest you're falling victim to what I call the "universal ranking fallacy", which is the implicit or explicit belief that all applicants to a college can be ranked in sequence and that legacies, by virtue of being legacies, get to jump the line and take the places of those higher up the list.