The Ivy League Legacy Advantage

With the Harvard Admissions Lawsuit coming to a close, the nation learned a good deal about the elite university’s secretive admissions process.

While it’s clear that being a legacy applicant, defined as someone whose parents or grandparents attended the school, provide applicants with an inherent boost in the admissions process based on how admissions officers rate applicants, few are aware of some of the other ways that being a legacy student increases one’s chances of being accepted.

This article’s intent is not to provide a value judgement on the practice of legacy preference is college admissions, but to simply shed more light on an otherwise opaque practice.

For starters, legacy applicants benefit from the insider knowledge that their parents have of the institution.

These parents can provide unique insights into the university that other students would not be privy to, and in some cases can utilize their insider knowledge of the admissions process to actually guide their child’s pre-college path in such a way as to maximize their chances of admission. While of course the extent of this advantage is dependent on how well the parents know the institution and its admissions practices, it is an advantage nonetheless.

An important part of creating a comparative application is understanding what a school offers, and making the case as to how you will take advantage of these offerings, thereby enhancing the school community. Those with insider knowledge can more adeptly tackle this aspect of the admissions process.

The second advantage has to do with alumni interviewers. While not all schools have this as part of their admissions process, some elite schools such as Harvard do. Applicants are interviewed by local alumni who have volunteered to become alumni interviewers. The legacy hack with alumni interviews is that if an applicant’s parents are high up enough in the local alumni organization, they are usually invited to the university’s campus to interview with an admissions officer or the dean of admissions so as to avoid any conflict of interest as a result of their parents’ involvement.

While the advantage this provides is entirely dependent on the applicant’s performance in the interview, a good interview could completely tip the scale in the applicants favor. University admissions is a subjective process, and admissions officers would give more weight to an interview report written by a member of the admissions office than they would to a report written by an alumni interviewer.


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