The Prevalence of Legacy Preference in College Admissions

April 8, 2024

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Title: Who Uses Legacy Admissions?

Authors: Sarah Reber and Gabriela Goodman

Source: Brookings Institution

Legacy admissions, the practice of giving special consideration to relatives of alumni in college admissions, has come under increased scrutiny following the Supreme Court’s ban on race-conscious admissions in 2023. A recent Brookings Institution report, using data from the 2021-22 academic year, provides valuable insights into the prevalence of legacy admissions at U.S. institutions and the intersection of these policies with race-in-admissions policies.

The report finds that prior to the high court’s decision, legacy admissions were more common than race-conscious admissions practices, though there was significant overlap between institutions that considered both.

Other key findings include:

  • Legacy admissions were more prevalent at private and selective colleges, with more selective institutions often considering both legacy status and race in admissions.
  • The prevalence of legacy admissions varied by region, with the Northeast having the highest rates and the West the lowest.
  • As of 2021-22, 30 percent of state flagships considered legacy status, and half offered scholarships specifically for legacy students.
  • Some colleges send mixed signals about their legacy admissions policies, asking application questions about legacy status while their websites claim they do not consider legacy status.

The authors of the report believe it is important to recognize that ending legacy admissions is unlikely to significantly impact diversity and opportunity in higher education. The effects on the composition of student bodies are likely to be small, and without additional financial aid, eliminating legacy preferences may simply replace privileged legacy students with privileged non-legacy students.

As institutional leaders navigate a changing admissions landscape, it is essential to approach legacy admissions with transparency and a commitment to meritocracy and equal opportunity. While ending the practice is a step in the right direction, addressing broader issues of academic preparation and college affordability will be key to increasing representation of underserved populations in four-year institutions.

Click here to read the full report and explore more information about the data.

—Alex Zhao


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