October 15, 2013

Legacies Make Up 15 Percent of Cornell Students

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Many people who have researched college admission statistics say that student legacies have a significant advantage in the application process, but Cornell in particular enrolls a larger percentage of legacies than its peer institutions.

According to Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, being a legacy student can add the equivalent of 160 SAT points to one’s college application. In his book, Kahlenberg says being a legacy student can largely improve one’s chances of being admitted to a top school.

Jason Locke, interim associate vice provost for enrollment, said that Cornell admissions defines a legacy candidate as “a student whose parents or grandparents — or great-, or great-great, etc. — hold a degree from Cornell University.”

Locke said that when two applicants are of roughly equal qualifications, children of alumni will receive additional consideration.

“This does not mean that every legacy applicant is admitted. Every applicant is evaluated on his or her own merits and within the context of a very large and talented applicant pool,” Locke said in an email.

According to statistics released by Cornell, 15 percent of Cornell’s entire undergraduate population is comprised of legacy students. This figure is higher than percentages at many of Cornell’s Ivy League counterparts.

For example, The Harvard Crimson reported that legacy students account for 12-to-13 percent of the undergraduate student body at Harvard.

In recent years, Locke said Cornell has seen a simultaneous increase in freshman legacies and a decrease in transfer legacies. The percentage of legacy students who arrive to Cornell as freshman has wavered between 14 and 15 percent. The percentage of transfer legacies usually falls between nine and 11 percent.

Michael Hurwitz, a researcher at Harvard, studied the impact of legacy status on admissions at 30 colleges and found that legacy students are three times more likely to be admitted to top schools than non-legacy students. In his report, Hurwitz says that being the child of someone who attended a college as an undergraduate, or a “primary legacy,” gives one the greatest advantage in admissions.

Primary legacy connections increased one’s chance of admission by 45.1 percent while secondary legacy connections — including siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents — boosted one’s admissions probability by 13.7 percent.

According to Pamela Paul, a reporter at The New York Times, admission rates for prestigious universities can be about five times greater than their overall acceptance rate. “Among legacy applicants for Princeton’s class of 2015, 33 percent of those offered a spot were the children of alumni. Harvard generally admits 30 percent, and Yale says it admits 20 percent to 25 percent.

For all three, the overall rate is in the single digits,” Paul said. Some highly-ranked schools, like Massachussetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, completely ignore legacy status and only consider meritocracy during their admissions process, according to Business Insider.

MIT Admissions Counselor Chris Peterson said in an MIT Admissions blog post that he stands by his philosophy on college admissions . “I personally would not work for a college which had legacy admissions because I am not interested in simply reproducing a multi-generational lineage of educated elite. And if anyone in our office ever advocated for a mediocre applicant on the basis of their ‘excellent pedigree,’ they would be kicked out of the committee room,” he wrote.