Do Legacy Students Have Higher Acceptance Odds?

Girl on her graduation gown with her parents.

Flickr user Drew Saunders

When you’re completing your college applications, you’re most likely trying to do everything you can to boost your acceptance odds. However, some factors may be out of your control, like whether you’re a “legacy student” or not for example. Here’s a rundown on what that means and if it affects your acceptance odds:

What is a Legacy Student?

A legacy student is a student who had a parent or sibling attend the college in the past. Most colleges that take legacy status into account only count the parents, but there are some that consider your siblings or even your distant relatives such as a cousin as qualifying factors. Each school is different, so you should look into how they define the term.

A primary legacy is generally considered to mean a parent of yours went to the college. A secondary legacy refers to your siblings or another relative.

How Does it Affect Acceptance Odds?

Colleges that tend to take legacy into account may say that this factor only has a slight effect on your acceptance odds and can be used to break ties between two applying students, but the stats say different. A study actually found that students are 45% more likely to get into a highly selective college if they’re considered primary legacy. This includes universities like Harvard, whose recent incoming 2021 class had 29% of students qualify for legacy status.

However, legacy doesn’t affect acceptance rates for every college out there. At some schools, it may not matter at all.

How Do I Know if a College Takes Legacy Status Into Account?

It’s important to note that most colleges are upfront about whether or not legacy status matters at all for their application process. If your school doesn’t mention legacy in their application information, it probably won’t affect your acceptance odds. Each college is different though so if you’re planning on applying to your parents or siblings’ school, you’ll need to do your research to find what qualifies.

In addition, some universities and colleges (including Penn State) will only allow you to claim legacy status if you’re applying for early admission.

Why Would Legacy Status Matter?

If you don’t have parents that attended college or attended your dream school, you may be wondering why it helps other students who DO have legacy status. Some of it comes down to tradition, but it may also be for monetary reasons. Colleges and universities tend to get more donations from families who are committed to the particular school, so this extra money can be cause to admit more legacy students.

While being a legacy student can affect your acceptance odds, if you don’t have the status, there isn’t much you can do in regards to giving your application a boost in this direction. However, if you are a legacy student, make sure you’re upfront about it. It can give your application a little push and could be the defining factor, especially if you come in at a tie with another student who doesn’t have legacy status.

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