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Does Legacy Status Improve Your Chances in College Admissions?

There are many nuances to the college admissions process, and one of the aspects that can be hard for students to navigate is whether or not applying to their parents’ alma mater will impact their chances of admission. Legacy status in college admissions can be a confusing avenue to travel, but there can be some benefits – and drawbacks – to applying to college as a legacy.

While data on legacy admissions can be vague and sparse, some colleges do provide data on exactly how many legacy students apply each year and how many were offered admission and/or matriculated.

According to The Hoya, Georgetown University admitted 30% of legacy applicants to the class of 2021, a considerably higher acceptance rate than for the overall class, which was 15.4%. While almost 1/3 of legacy applicants were accepted, they only made up 5% of the entire applicant pool.

At Princeton University, legacy students made up 14.5% of the class of 2020 – that’s 190 students out of the 1,312 students who enrolled.

On the surface it can seem like applying to highly selective colleges as a legacy can give you a real leg-up in the admissions process. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a check mark next to the “legacy” box isn’t all the colleges are looking for.

What Is A Legacy?
In college admissions, a “legacy” student is defined as someone whose parents attended and/or graduated from the institution to which the student is applying. So if one or more of your parents graduated from Harvard, and you apply to Harvard, you are considered a legacy applicant. In some cases legacy status can also apply to other relatives who are currently or previously attended the institution, including siblings and grandparents.

Why Do Colleges Care About Legacy Students?
Colleges want to build well-rounded classes made up of specialists, but they also care about their yield, and therefore want to also admit qualified students who will enroll. Applying as a legacy is one way to demonstrate interest and can be a signal to colleges that, if admitted, you’re likely to attend as you already have strong emotional ties to the institution. Colleges and universities also care about alumni engagement and development, and offering admission to qualified students of alumni can help bolster alumni giving.

What Do Colleges Ask About Legacy Status?
While legacy status can be a compelling piece of information, colleges really do not spend too much time asking about it. Colleges can include questions about legacy status in their supplements on the Common Application, and it’s often just two or three questions. Are you related to an alumnus? What is your relationship to that alumnus? Who is that alumnus?

common app legacy question


How Does Legacy Status Impact My College Application Strategy?
It’s important to remember that, again, while legacy status is an insightful piece of information, it’s just one piece of the college admissions puzzle. Applying as a legacy won’t matter if your grades, test scores, and overall applicant profile are not up to the university’s admission standards. This is where it’s important to understand how your applicant profile stacks up against other students applying for admission, and how nuanced information, like legacy status, can better position you for admission.

If you already have strong grades and test scores, and your top-choice college is also your legacy school, applying in the early round might help your chances of admission. Not only are early admission rates often higher than regular admission rates, applying early also demonstrates interest, and identifying as a legacy can further demonstrate your commitment to attend if admitted.

Applying as a legacy can also impact your application strategy because some institutions, like the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, only consider legacy status if a student applies in the early round. This is another piece of the admissions puzzle to thoroughly evaluate, as the advantages of applying as a legacy can be lost if you’re not prepared to apply early in these instances.

While there are cases where applying as a legacy can boost your applicant profile, on the other hand, if your academic profile is not as strong as the middle 50% of admitted applicants, legacy status probably won’t be enough to keep you from the “no” pile. It’s important to remember that legacy status can provide additional context to your application, but it’s not enough to encourage admissions officers to look past poor grades, test scores, activities, and more.

In the end, applying as a legacy student can help bolster an overall strong application, but it isn’t sufficient to warrant admission on its own. Students should consider how their academic profile stacks up against the university’s admission standards, and how their overall application, along with other factors like legacy status, should inform their application strategy come fall.

At IvyWise we work with students – both legacies and not – to select the best-fit colleges and universities for their needs and goals, and develop and application strategy that best positions them to gain admission to their top-choice colleges. If you are considering applying to college as a legacy student, or want to know more about how IvyWise’s team of expert counselors can help you best position yourself during the college admissions process, contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.

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