What is a College Legacy Student?

Simply put, a legacy is a student at a college who has family ties to an alumnus of that institution. Perhaps the student’s mother or father attended that university when they were younger. The family of legacy students–or “legacies”–typically have a loyalty to that school and the pride that comes along with it.

Multiple people's hand grabbing another person's wrist to form a ring.

What does legacy mean?

For the most part, the familial ties of a legacy student include the immediate family–mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. However, some universities will extend the definition of legacy much further–to nieces, nephews, grandsons, granddaughters, and sometimes even siblings.

The college admissions process often shows favoritism toward legacy students. It is a controversial issue that faces many colleges. This is especially true at prestigious and elite schools. The preferential treatment towards legacy students often causes some heated debate in the college admission sphere. Admitting a student solely based on whether or not family members went there is unfair to other, non-legacy applicants. However, the reason schools favor legacy students so much is that it will ultimately increase the pool of alumni and therefore funding–a school needs money to maintain itself and pay faculty, after all.

A 2011 study found that Harvard’s acceptance rate for legacy students was a whopping 30%–over four times the acceptance rating for any other first-time applicants. Nowadays with the backlash over unfair preferences, many schools have adopted certain limitations surrounding the recruitment and acceptance of legacy students–including only permitting a certain percentage of the total accepted applicants to be legacies.

When did legacy students begin?

So why is there special legacy treatment? Where and when did it start? Historically speaking, colleges used to cater only to the wealthy and affluent, those with social privileges and status, and the finances to pay for their education. Fast forward to the present–there are countless programs, scholarships, grants, funding opportunities, and focuses on leveling the playing field and bringing equality to the college education sphere. Sadly, we have not accomplished 100% equality, partially due to the lingering elitism from a bygone age.

What if you’re a legacy student?

If you are a legacy student and you have a strong interest in attending a school where your parent(s) went, just make sure to really think about why you want to go. Are they known for a major or program that you feel passionate about? Is it in a location you’d love to be in? Do you want to work hard for that quality education and feel a sense of accomplishment? Great! There is absolutely nothing wrong with being interested in a college you just happen to be a legacy for.

However, it is equally important to be aware of privileges. Evaluate your reasons for wanting to apply. Is it because you know you have a better shot at being accepted? Do you just want the same alumni perks your family member has? Do you feel pressured to attend or have an obligation to go there because you are a legacy? These may not be strong enough reasons to apply, and maybe you should explore some other school options to find the college right for you (College Raptor can help you with that!).

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