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The Legacy and Wealth “Hook” at Elite Colleges

We are often asked if being a legacy applicant is a benefit in admissions. “If my mom went to College X does it increase my odds of being admitted?” Typically, your parent having gone to the college to which you are applying will carry weight, but check with each school. Some schools such as MIT clearly state that they do not factor in legacy status or alumni relations when reviewing candidates for admissions. That said, there is a section on the Common Application that asks where your parents and siblings attended (or attend) college/university and for the majority of colleges and universities, it is a big plus.


Some colleges state they only “count” legacy for early applicants, yet, of course they are reading the information about parents’ schools in the Common App education section, and that is a factor in some way. We’ve had past students ask us if their godmother, uncle, cousin, grandfather or sibling will “count” in legacy admissions, and the answer is most often no.  At many schools it’s usually parents only, sometimes grandparents, but be sure to check with each school’s admissions office for specifics.

As the Atlantic recently reported, “Applying to college as a legacy is like having a superpower. It has been estimated to double or quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective school, and has been found to be roughly equivalent to a 160-point boost on the SAT. At the most selective institutions in the United States, it’s typical for 10 to 15 percent of students to have a parent who also attended.”

Columbia University notes the following on their website: When an applicant is extremely competitive and compares favorably with other similarly talented candidates, being the daughter or son of a Columbia University graduate (from any Columbia school or college) may be a slight advantage in the admission process. This advantage may especially apply for “legacy” candidates. Please note: applicants are considered to be “legacies” of Columbia only if they are the children of Columbia College or Columbia Engineering graduates.

So, that last line is especially important as having a parent who attended any Columbia school is a “slight advantage” but to be an official “legacy applicant,” the applicant must be a child of a parent who graduated from Columbia College or Columbia Engineering. And, we would argue that the legacy “boost” is most valuable when used in the early round, so that would be early decision for Columbia. This is different from Harvard where legacy admission comes into play only for children of Harvard College alumni, not the 11 other Harvard schools.

Legacy admissions becomes complex when the notion of a dramatic boost in admit stats enters the picture. As has been reported in The Guardian, the Boston Globe, and in recent Harvard University court documentslegacy acceptance rates tip the scales at an alarming rate.

  • Naviance data across 64 U.S. colleges and universities shows that on average the admissions rate for legacies is 31 percent higher than for non-legacies. Note:

Class of 2022 Overall Acceptance Rates vs. Legacy Acceptance Rates

University Overall Acceptance Rate Legacy Acceptance Rate                (rough estimate)
Harvard 4.49% 33%
Princeton 5.49% 11%
Georgetown 14.5% 44%
Notre Dame 17.7% 35%

A further breakdown of Harvard admit data reveals more:

Harvard Legacy Data Separated Out By Race

Of the white applicants accepted to Harvard            21.5% were legacies

Of the Asian applicants…                                               6.6% were legacies

Of the African Americans applicants…                       4.8% were legacies

If you’ve been following the Harvard admissions trial, then you know the trial is working to determine and assess some high stakes issues relating to race and admissions “hooks.” Note:

White Harvard Applicants and their Massive Hook-Boost

  • Over the past 6 years, Harvard admitted ~2,680 white students who had an athlete, donor, legacy, or staff/faculty son or daughter hook.
    • Those 2,680 admits represent more than ALL Asian admits (2,460) during the same 6 years;
    • And just slightly less than ALL of the African American and Latino/a admits (2,693) COMBINED.

The bottom line is that 42 percent of private institutions and 6 percent of public institutions consider legacy status as a factor in admissions, according to a 2018 survey of admissions directors by Inside Higher Ed.

As Inside Higher Ed also recently reported, with supporting data from Opportunity Insights and Dr. Raj Chetty’s research, at Brown, 70 percent of students come from the top 20 percent of family income in the U.S. and Brown alumni children (legacy admits) make up 10 to 12 percent of the recent classes admitted.


The above highlights the extent to which legacy and race in college admissions can bump a student into or out of the Ivy League pool. Is it becoming a question of “Who’s swimming?”

One reply on “The Legacy and Wealth “Hook” at Elite Colleges”

Notre Dame: In my 30 plus years of college counseling, Notre Dame is an excellent ezample of the significant impact of legacies. Over the years I have heard from Notre Dame alum that they become unhappy if less than 20-25% of the enrolling class are not legacies. And it seems with a 35% accept rate for legacies, they will have a yield to easily meet those numbers. Thus applicants to the University should know that a quarter of the class is already filled.Nore Dame is family!

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