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Legacy Students Up To 45% More Likely To Be Admitted To Elite Colleges

First Posted: 01/06/11 01:52 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

Legacy

According to a new study, legacy status may matter a lot more in college admissions than previously estimated, offering an advantage of up to 45.1 percent.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in an article titled "The impact of legacy status on undergraduate admissions at elite colleges and universities" (available for purchase here), Harvard researcher Michael Hurwitz was able to determine the effect of the admissions characteristic that differs from school to school -- legacy status -- on an individual's chance of admission.

Hurwitz found that previous measures of legacy advantage have been too low, and that applicants with any legacy have a 23.3 percent admissions advantage compared to those without any. Those who are considered to be primary legacies -- applicants whose parent obtained an undergraduate degree from the institution -- have an advantage of 45.1 percent, and those with a sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent who attended or a parent who was enrolled at the graduate level -- secondary legacies -- are 13.7 percent more likely to be accepted than students with no connection.

Hurwitz's conclusions apply to the most and least selective colleges; legacy advantage is significantly less for students applying to mid-level colleges and universities.

Traditionally, elite schools have cited legacy preference as negligible, adding that students of alumni would have been accepted on their own merit and that they are integral for donor relations and fostering an intergenerational community. Studies like Hurwitz's shake the legitimacy of the first two points - and a recent book, Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, questions the third point and other legacy myths. The tome also considers the legality of the practice, which some have argued violates both the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Still, Hurwitz notes that the actual legacy advantage, although considerable for individuals, does not greatly affect the applicant pool because cases of primary legacies are rare. Of the 290,000 applications he surveyed, just six percent held any legacy status.

What do you think of the legacy debate? Were you a legacy student? Let us know in the comments section.

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Filed by Danielle Wiener-Bronner  |