Unfair advantage

“Legacy applicants from the top 1% have more than a 5-fold advantage in admissions,” research group says

A new study in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action on the collegiate level has found that legacy students are four times more likely to be admitted into the nation’s top universities.

A research group at Harvard conducted an analysis of a dozen elite schools — including the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, and the University of Chicago — and determined that, among applicants with similar test scores, legacy applicants were far more likely to be accepted into the school their parents attended than those whose parents didn’t. As previous studies uncovered, seven in 10 legacy students are white.

Additionally, the study found that “legacy applicants from the top 1% have more than a 5-fold advantage in admissions.” (Of the 12 universities involved in the study, only M.I.T. accurately accepted students based on merit, not legacy or wealth.)

“The legacy advantage does not transfer across colleges,” the authors of the Opportunity Insights study wrote. “The children of alumni of a given Ivy-Plus college have no higher chance of being admitted to other Ivy-Plus colleges (conditional on their other credentials), indicating that legacy status does not simply proxy for other unobservable credentials that lead to higher admissions rates.”


The study arrives weeks after three Boston-area groups filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Harvard University, “challenging its discriminatory practice of giving preferential treatment in the admissions process to applicants with familial ties to wealthy donors and alumni (‘legacy applicants’).”

“This preferential treatment has nothing to do with an applicant’s merit,” Lawyers for Civil Rights, who filed the the complaint with the Education Department, said in a statement (via the New York Times). “Instead, it is an unfair and unearned benefit that is conferred solely based on the family that the applicant is born into. This custom, pattern and practice is exclusionary and discriminatory. It severely disadvantages and harms applicants of color.”