Legacy Admissions: Percentages, Affirmative Action, & More from NY Times

One of the categories that is frequently a hook for college applicants is if they are a legacy of an alum. The article below (with a gifted link, so anybody can read it no matter how many NY Times articles they have read) discusses how legacy admissions might be endangered if affirmative action is outlawed by the Supreme Court, something that experts think might happen in the next year as cases against Harvard and UNC proceed. The article quoted some college newspaper surveys and other sources, and Yale’s and UVA’s legacy percentages were around 14-15%, and Duke’s was around 22%. Johns Hopkins and Amherst were noted for having ended legacy consideration at their own schools.

Do others think that the fate of legacy admissions will be linked to the fate of affirmative action? Are you surprised by the percentage of legacy students in the colleges mentioned? Any other thoughts or reactions?

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I think private colleges should be free to set their own policies on legacy admits, but I am surprised public schools like UVA continue to offer legacy advantage. I do wish all schools would be far more transparent than they are about their admissions processes, and chances of admission for unhooked students.
Duke’s 22% legacy population means that would not have been a likely admit for my kid, who would have overlapped with many of their legacy kids in demographics (UMC, private school, South). Good for applicants to realize that early on.


I don’t understand what all the consternation is about legacy as a factor at a small handful of elite private universities. This is important for maintaining alumni engagement (donations, interviewing, recruiting, etc). There are so many other colleges and universities in this country for folks to select, so why focus on these few which are all but irrelevant for the majority?


Interesting article, but Duke does not have 22% of the class as legacies.
The average is usually between 10% and 14% per the Alumni office, and for 2024 is 11%, per Dean G:
“11% of the Class of 2024 are legacy students”, Duke Chronicle.
Is Christoph Guttentag a cat person? - The Chronicle


Legacy admissions at Yale are already a dead man walking and only the lightest of thumbs on the scale for those donating at the upper middle class level. This was a marked departure in the last cycle from the previous cycle in our anecdotal experience re kids from our national tippy top prep school. Any statement by the dean of admissions that legacy preference is alive and well at Yale College is merely lip service to keep upper middle class alums writing checks and interviewing for the school. The Yale College Council voted against legacies and the faculty is largely supportive of getting rid of them as cited in the article (except for children of faculty who are still easily getting in but are too few to matter). First-gen or challenged backgrounds of all kinds (including public schools in urban centers) have become the only politically acceptable preference (together with the necessary athletes). I am not saying that is right or wrong, as that is Yale’s prerogative, but Yale College should go ahead and say so publicly so they are honest with their hard working and committed alumni. Be brave if you mean it, come out and say so and don’t be afraid to live with the consequences.


Personally I would be very glad to see legacy admissions go away.

I got my bachelor’s degree at a university that does not have legacy admissions. I think “good for them”.

Both my wife and I happen to have master’s degrees from universities that consider the children of people with graduate degrees to be legacy (which I think is relatively rare), but I would rather that my daughters either get in on their own merit or go somewhere else where they can get in on their own merit (which is what they did for undergrad, and one has done for a graduate program).

However, I could not predict whether this would be connected to the affirmative action case. To me they seem like different issues.


I do think that if AA is ended, legacy preferences will follow. They will be shamed out of it, and rightly so in my opinion. The UK got rid of the legacy hook over 50 years ago, and our country should too. I think bumps for donors, faculty and athletes should be eliminated too.


Probably around 60% of private non-profit and 30% of public colleges and universities in the US say that they consider alumni relation in their CDS section C7, from a few years ago. So it is not limited to a small handful of elite private universities.

https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/production.tcf.org/app/uploads/2016/03/08201915/2010-09-15-chapter_5.pdf suggests that legacy preference per se may not be the driver for greater donations, but that it results in greater selection of students from wealth, which does improve donations, as well as keep financial aid expense lower, even if they promise to be “need blind” in admissions and offer good financial aid for those who need it (as determined by the college).

There may also be another motivation for some universities to lean on legacy, which is to prop up the number of White students. I.e. they do not want the White student population to fall so quickly that they become less marketable to White students, which would decrease their application volume and ability to select students however they like.

MIT openly says that it does not consider legacy. But it is an outlier among highly selective private universities in this respect.


Some colleges, including two in the SEC, do not admit recruited athletes to lower academic standards than their general student population. But that may be unusual among those with high profile intercollegiate sports.

As with most things in competitive arenas, it is important to think several steps ahead.

The NYT article states:
“…an admissions tradition — legacy preferences — that mostly benefits students who are white, wealthy and well-connected”

While this may certainly have been true historically, many/most of the elite schools are doing their level best (and succeeding) “to admit more diverse” (non-white, less wealthy, and/or unhooked) candidates.

When this new wave of diverse graduates of elite schools have children, won’t they want their kids to apply to their alma mater? If the elite college experience was everything it was promised to be, what parent doesn’t want their child to experience/have access to that? Legacy admissions is a way to build loyalty, tradition and engagement for families that are new to all of this.

Doing away with legacy admissions may screw the next generation of new families on their way to upward social mobility.

If the Affirmative Action experiment is to be successful, why get rid of the legacy admissions carrot?


Why should this new group, or any group, of families continue to enjoy an advantage in upward social mobility?


With respect to elite colleges, most scions of their alumni are not exactly “new” to their social class, and usually are closer to the top than the bottom, so upward mobility for them is limited in any case, compared to most first-generation-to-college students, or the general applicant, admit, and student populations.

Even at more ordinary colleges, legacies are from families at least in the top approximately third of educational attainment, so higher social class origins are more common among them than for the general applicant, admit, and student populations.


I think both of you are missing my point.

Obviously legacy admission is the purview of each elite college or university. It is what it is, at least for private institutions.

As I said, it is important to think several steps ahead.

While in the past, legacy admissions advantaged the white, wealthy and well-connected, with the current changes in the profile and composition of college admissions vastly different groups will have a legacy advantage in the next generation.

In today’s world being first gen/low income/non-white/non-binary/etc. are the highest admissions priorities, all of these admits will someday be legacies. Why end an engagement program provides a significant benefit to the people who need it the most?

After all, aren’t elite institutions all about gaining advantage? If you don’t seek or expect some sort of advantage, why are you even going?


If the schools are successfully launching people up the mobility ladder, then the kids of those grads aren’t the ones who need it the most, even if their parents were financially needy when they themselves attended.

That said, I have no issue with legacy admits for private schools. They can decide how best to fulfill their mission. Accepting a small number of legacies can help with that, especially if the legacies are also qualified in their own right, which by and large legacy admits are. Admitting a few extra legacies doesn’t materially change the extremely low likelihood of admissions for the great unwashed.


As many on this thread have implied or stated, getting rid of the legacy tip will have minimal impact on a non legacy’s chances at the elite schools. And if affirmative action goes away the elite schools will change their criteria (they already are) to favor first generation and disadvantaged applicants. They will stop asking applicants to check the box on their racial background and obscure the facts as needed to minimize the chances of legal challenges

The question of whether legacy stays is not legally related to the fate of affirmative action especially as more minority alumni are now producing their own potential legacy progeny. If media institutions like The NY Times whip up enough moral panic and shame that will have an impact The hypocrisy of the Times which is controlled by the Sulzberger family through a special legal mechanism (legacy for me but not for thee) is particularly galling.


Thinking several steps ahead…

Students attending elite colleges meet and socialize with each other. They have a greater chance to go on to work in elite professions where they often meet other graduates from elite colleges. They’re more likely to marry graduates of elite colleges. Together, they produce offspring who have a built-in advantage, both in terms of nature and often nurture. Why do these offspring need another advantage so they can be treated preferentially in college admissions? To help perpetuate their hereditary advantage?


Interesting point. In thinking about your post I realized that among the families in my circle who went to a top10 and had kids get in to that same school, 5 of the 8 legacy parents were low income or first gen or both (no one used the term FG/LI in the 90s, but we still were). In fact, the much larger group of parent legacies whose kids have gotten rejected also has a nice portion of former FGLIs. So the legacy pool is already very different than it was 25-30 yrs ago.

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But their kids who got the legacy advantage if given were not FG by definition. How many of them were in LI families?

Basically, legacy admission helps a family lineage at least a generation after it has already moved up in SES from college education, rather than helping the generation that is more likely to need the help.


This might be a good time to post several studies that have created social mobility indexes to rank colleges as to how they perform on this factor.

tl;dr highly rejectives generally don’t make the lists of top social mobility institutions because they serve such a small proportion of students overall (the high volume of students at hispanic serving institutions carries the day in some of these methodologies).

As always, no methodology is perfect.

Third Way (extends prior Chetty research): Out With the Old, In With the New: Rating Higher Ed by Economic Mobility – Third Way

CollegeNet: https://www.socialmobilityindex.org/

USNWR: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/social-mobility


Cornell has been getting a lot of push back from students about continuing legacy admission. Historically 20-25% of the incoming class were legacy admits. I think it’s down below 15% now. And legacy is only a bump in ED.

I see the legacy bump disappearing entirely very soon. It’s just not in line with the school’s current mission.