Last week, The Atlantic ran a story that called for an end to legacy admissions. Legacy admissions practices have, on many occasions, helped children of alumni to gain admission to selective colleges. This article mentioned that about three-quarters of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 universities give some preference in admissions to the relatives of alumni.
The article raise two legitimate points in favor of the elimination of legacy admissions:
Legacy admissions made more sense in an earlier era—before World War II and the passage of the GI Bill—when selective colleges targeted students from selective private and parochial high schools, quite possibly the same high schools that their parents, and maybe their grandparents, attended. These students, mostly male, quite likely pursued the same curriculum as their parents, with accommodations for advances in history, science and technology such as calculators and computers. They were far more likely to attend college and finish college in an era when the majority of their peers, men and women, did not.
Admissions offices have recruited at these schools for decades, and they have maintained relationships with their leadership and college advisors. They still do, and they should. Their students are among the best prepared for college. But the graduates of the most selective high schools make up a much smaller percentage of the college-bound population in the United States than they did before World War II. Admissions processes have also become more open to a more diverse pool of candidates, especially women, since the later half of the 1960s.
Would the admissions process be fairer if legacy admissions were abolished?
In some ways, the answer is yes.
But abolishing legacy admissions could also cause some unintended consequences that should be reported.
Consigning legacy admissions to history could make the admissions process more democratic for well-qualified applicants who have not had that extra “leg up” in the pool. But there are always new problems when one adds more democracy to any recruitment and selection process, including college admissions.
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