'Legacy’ College Admissions Need To End Now

by Holly Garcia
Ariel Skelley/Getty

If you’ve seen “Gilmore Girls”, you’re familiar with Rory’s obsession with Ivy League college admission. She wants to go to Harvard, but her grandparents are adamant about her going to their alma mater, Yale. Although her mother never made it there, both her grandparents did, and their parents, and so on and so forth. And here I thought legacy college admissions were limited to rom-coms and not an actual real-life thing. (Spoiler alert, I was wrong). I guess I assumed that the most elite colleges in the U.S. would admit students to their school based on skills and qualifications, and have nothing to do with their parents or familial relations — a radical idea, I know.

Not only are legacy college admissions a real thing, but some colleges — ahem, Harvard — still are operating by those rules. In fact, according to The Harvard Crimson, between 2014 and 2019, out of the six percent total acceptance rate, 33% were legacies. And before you get your knickers in a twist, we’re not hating on legacies. There is no doubt that students who hold legacy status could be qualified to be admitted. Truth be told, they already have many overwhelming privileges to get them ahead regardless.

Some colleges, like Amherst, Caltech, and MIT, have already made changes to their admission process and don’t consider legacy status. Johns Hopkins University ended legacy status back in 2014, and the results were exactly what you’d thought they’d be. According to, the year before changing its policy, Hopkins enrolled 8.5% legacies and 8.1% first-generation students. Compare that to 2021, only 3.7% are legacies, and 17.8% are first-generation. So why are other elite schools like Harvard holding out? Their current excuse? Well, the same thing everything in this life boils down to: money.

Donations from Wealthy Parents Fund the School — Or Do They?

Legacy students have access to wealth. Which means they are more than just financially secure. They can afford the best tutors and don’t have to balance working a part-time job and having their extracurriculars suffer. Yes, they’re well-educated, which is great, but that in itself should be what is considered, not whether or not they’ve been groomed to attend the Ivy League.

One argument the admissions office takes into consideration is that parents of legacies are more generous with their donations. Obviously, because they’re hoping that reaching deep into their pockets will be something the admissions office remembers when considering their child’s future. Even though it isn’t illegal, it feels ethically questionable. If you’re truly interested in the brightest, most genius minds, remember that they aren’t all flooded with cash.

The thought that just because someone is already given incredible advantages in life (all that cash money), in turn, gives them an even greater advantage is just all kinds of wrong. Let’s be honest. Harvard will always (for the foreseeable future) have plenty of applicants knocking on their door. Of course, they also justify their actions by arguing that there is a correlation between wealth and success in education.

While there is truth to that argument, it’s a pretty weak correlation to base admissions on. Just because someone comes from a low-income household doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate about their education. Likewise, just because you have had every tutor and expensive after-school club handed to you on a silver platter doesn’t mean you have the drive to work your ass off to earn your education. Yes, money makes a difference, but it isn’t everything.

It’s Time to Leave ‘Legacy’ College Admissions Behind

The college application process is already difficult to navigate. I mean, not everyone can be Reese Witherspoon circa 2001 in Legally Blonde, and throw on a sparkly bikini and just get into Harvard. What, like it’s hard? (In my Elle Woods voice). Yes, Elle. Yes, it is hard. And not just for an Ivy league admission; we’re talking about the entire college admissions process in general.

There’s the application itself and maybe an essay of sorts. You also have to know what standardized testing is required. Is it an ACT or an SAT? Do any of your AP courses from high school transfer over? And don’t even get us started with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). For people who aren’t first-generation college students, this might seem like a lot of work, but at least they’ve had someone who has come before them to guide and give a helping hand. First-generation college students already have an uphill battle. So it’s time to even out the playing field and give all brilliant minds a chance by ending legacy college admissions.

We live in a society where privilege literally plays into every scenario in our day-to-day. While it’s something people have been acknowledging and exploring, it takes a whole lot of commitment to deconstruct it from the inside out. There is no denying the impact privilege has on wealth, education, and the quality of people’s lives. It won’t fix every inequality when it comes to getting an Ivy League education, but ending legacy college admissions is a step in the right direction.