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Harvard’s freshman class is more than one-third legacy—here’s why that’s a problem

Dave_BerryDave_Berry CC Admissions Expert Posts: 2,891 Senior Member
"Harvard’s Class of 2022 is made up of over 36% legacy students, according to The Harvard Crimson. The year before, the share of the freshman class was just over 29%.

As of 2015, legacies were five times more likely to get into the world-famous university than applicants without relatives who went to Harvard.

Stanford University gives legacies a significant advantage as well. 'It used to be that every application would be read twice. Now, only one reading is guaranteed, although — thanks, Mom and Dad — every legacy application still gets two sets of eyes,' a 2013 Stanford Magazine article about the school’s admissions process reported.

Across the top 30 schools in the U.S., one review from 2011 discussed in the Washington Post found that children of alumni 'had a 45 percent greater chance of admission' than other applicants." ...


Replies to: Harvard’s freshman class is more than one-third legacy—here’s why that’s a problem

  • CU123CU123 Registered User Posts: 3,252 Senior Member
    Well that means there is just no room in the class for those non-legacy non-hooked applicants.
  • jazzingjazzing Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    @Dave_Berry: I agree with tdy123. The CNBC numbers are grossly exaggerated, and I think you should correct your post. According to the Crimson article cited by CNBC:
    "Slightly more than 14 percent of surveyed freshmen in the Class of 2022 reported being legacy students, a decline from the 18.3 percent from the Class of 2021 who did so."
  • lostaccountlostaccount Registered User Posts: 5,409 Senior Member
    Is it 14% or is it really 10.8%? Is the 10.8% only one parent or at least on parent?
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 76,154 Senior Member
    Depends on what is counted as "legacy".

    https://features.thecrimson.com/2018/freshman-survey/makeup/ shows the following relationships with alumni:

    10.8% one parent
    3.7% two parents
    7.2% sibling
    3.5% grandparent
    1.4% multiple grandparents
    5.5% aunt or uncle
    4.7% other relatives
    63.2% none (so all of the above would be 36.8%)

    What Harvard admissions counts as a "legacy" for admission preference purposes may not be publicly stated (or whether there are different levels of admission preferences for different legacy relations).
  • EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    There really must be errors here. According to Harvard (see article below), 14% of students are legacy. And 70% are on financial aid (below). If I were to guess, some sleep-deprived or non-math major student at the Crimson added up all of those categories when they were not mutually exclusive (ie the same person who has a parent also has an aunt, and that student is counted twice....they added those categories up and subtracted from 100% to get the 63.2%).
    I have a freshman there now, and in chatting with his hall mates, and parents over parents weekend, move-in day, etc., there is no way the 36% is accurate.

    I am not a fan of legacy preference, and my children are not legacy students (well, one is only a senior in high school, but she is not considering my alma mater in the end). But I still think it would be best to stick with the 14% as the accurate number. By the way, I am not a fan of legacy preference, but when I was in college as a first gen student, I did enjoy having friends who were legacies—they really did bring something extra in terms of school spirit and institutional knowledge, etc. that was beneficial. And clearly many of them did not get a “boost”—the phi beta kappa ceremony, etc had plenty of legacy students. It is a mistake to assume that all or even most are in some way under qualified. But I agree they should not, as a group, have different standards.

  • EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    Oh, yes, it’s obvious that’s what the mistake was. Those categories all add up to 100. However there is no category for people with multiple connections (ie the student whose mom AND brother and grandfather attended). In reality, there is a tremendous overlap in those categories. Additionally, this is a self-reported survey that doesn’t have complete participation whereas the Harvard data (14%) is comprehensive, from actual admissions records, so it would overall be more accurate to use the Harvard data, even if Crimson fixed their error. So it appears they added up non—mutually exclusive categories to arrive at this silly 36% number. Harvard is pretty clear, too, that the admissions preference only extends to students who have a parent who attended undergraduate there (and there is nowhere on the application to even send in information about grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc).

    Such a lesson that journalists should really be schooled in statistics, etc. or at least should have someone on staff to vet things likes this! While the 36 percent was pretty ridiculous, people sometimes can’t help believing what they read.
  • EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    Dave, I think you should correct your subject/headline. Instead of just deleting this fallacious article/post, you really ought to consider adjusting your headline to say something to the effect of, “Don’t believe everything you read—Harvard’s freshman class is NOT over 1/3 legacy, but is still a sizable 14% of the student body.”
  • jazzingjazzing Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    @EmptyNestSoon2, the error is on the part of CNBC, which claimed 36%. The Crimson lists the figure as 14%.
    @ucbalumnus, Harvard's definition of legacy is publicly and privately stated as a son or daughter of someone who has graduated from Harvard College. https://college.harvard.edu/are-my-chances-admission-enhanced-if-relative-has-attended-harvard
    Other relatives give no legacy tip, and relatives who attended Harvard graduate schools offer no tip. It may be interesting that many students have relatives who attended Harvard University, but there is no legacy advantage unless a parent attended Harvard College.
  • CU123CU123 Registered User Posts: 3,252 Senior Member
    edited April 8
    I wouldn't put a lot of faith into what Harvard defines as a legacy. They say that only the parents count but who knows? The article is clear as to what they are defining as legacy. It certainly established a connection to admittance and relatives. The numbers seem way too high compared to overall acceptance rate to be ignored.
  • EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    I don't think anyone is saying that there is no boost for legacies. Just that:
    1. You can't add up categories that are definitely NOT mutually exclusive to derive a total number, as the CNBC journalist did. The "36% of all freshman are legacies" is garbage, and very embarrassingly shoddy reporting. The accurate number is 14%. Anyone can consider that number too high if they choose. Personally, I think it's too high, my opinion. But it's 14%, not 36%.
    2. The other relatives aren't even listed on an application (there is no space to say that your auntie or grandpa or 2nd cousin went there....unless for some reason you choose to write your essay about that, which would most likely be a big mistake). So it seems quite fair to believe that the primary legacy connection that helps is parents who attended Harvard College.
  • damon30damon30 Registered User Posts: 1,007 Senior Member
    The figures in that article are so meaningless, they are not even wrong. The definitive sources are the court documents in the Harvard lawsuit, e.g. http://samv91khoyt2i553a2t1s05i-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Doc-620-SFFA-Proposed-FF-and-CL-redacted.pdf
    Harvard gives an admissions preference to applicants with certain family connections: children of alumni (legacies), children of donors or potential donors (which Fitzsimmons and McGrath track via the “Dean’s Interest List” and “Director’s Interest List”), and children of faculty and staff. ... Harvard also gives an admissions preference to athletes recruited by Harvard’s intercollegiate sports teams. The parties refer to these applicants as the “ALDC” applicants.
    They [ALDC applicants] are only 5% of the applicant pool, yet they make up approximately 30% of the admitted class.
    That ALDCs receive special treatment is revealed most starkly in the “enormous tip” they receive and their “strikingly high” admission rates. Recruited athletes are admitted 86.0% of the time versus 6.0% for non-athletes; legacies are admitted 33.6% of the time versus 5.9% for non-legacies; applicants on the Dean’s and Director’s Lists are admitted 42.2% of the time versus 6.1% for those who are not; and the children of faculty or staff are admitted 46.7% of the time versus 6.6% for all others.
  • jazzingjazzing Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    @damon30. I'm not sure that the source can be considered "definitive," in that it's the "Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law."
    In any case if athletes, legacies, and children of donors and staff comprise 30% of the class, there is no way that legacies alone comprise 36%.
  • damon30damon30 Registered User Posts: 1,007 Senior Member
    edited April 10
    In any case if athletes, legacies, and children of donors and staff comprise 30% of the class, there is no way that legacies alone comprise 36%.

    Exactly. The court document statistics were compiled through discovery and are very reliable. The article is the usual poor excuse for journalism.
  • CU123CU123 Registered User Posts: 3,252 Senior Member
    The article is accurate if you define legacies as any relation (which is clearly defined in the article) not just parents. If you don’t think there is a boost for siblings you’re wrong.
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