The Atlantic

The Real Reasons Legacy Preferences Exist

Several schools forgo or have abandoned them, but seem to be faring just fine.
Source: Brooks Kraft / Getty

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.

These estimates are, of course, rough; colleges generally don’t share specifics on the advantage they give to legacies—or, sometimes, on how they define the term (it can refer to children of alumni or, more broadly, to other relatives of alumni)—so research on the subject has been limited.

Still, given that admissions at selective colleges are more competitive than ever—last week, several of them —it’s clear that a preference for legacies benefits alumni and their children. But what does this tradition—which is —do for colleges? And,

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic7 min readTech
It’s a Winner-Take-All World, Whether You Like It or Not
Not long ago, I reached out to a writer I respec, and posed the uncomfortable question authors find themselves forced to ask: Would she write a blurb—the endorsement you see on the back cover—for my new book about how a person can navigate a career i
The Atlantic10 min read
This Isn’t Going According to Plan for Kirsten Gillibrand
The senator from New York is a battle-tested campaigner who thrives as the underdog. But 2020 is proving to be a much tougher challenge than she thought.
The Atlantic4 min readPsychology
Dear Therapist: The Child My Daughter Put Up for Adoption Is Now Rejecting Her
She thought that her daughter would want to meet her one day. Twenty-five years later, that’s not true.