Andrew Mangum / The New York Times

Johns Hopkins University recently ceased considerations of legacy status in its admissions process.

January 31, 2020

Johns Hopkins University Abolishes Legacy Admissions; Cornell Remains Unmoving

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High school seniors can now take legacy status off of their application to Johns Hopkins University: The Baltimore-based university will no longer be considering lineage while reviewing applications, it announced in a press release on The Hub. The question remains whether Cornell will ever do the same.

Several years ago, Johns Hopkins began a process to slowly, but quietly, phase out legacy admission; this year, legacy status as an admissions factor has been officially abolished. This move comes as peer institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have also nixed considering legacy status in the admissions process.

“We have not had any discussions about changing Cornell policy or practices in response to any other university’s announcements,” Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment, wrote in an email to The Sun.

“When we build a class, we look at many characteristics,” Burdick wrote of the admissions process. “Family ties are a small part of the big picture, and in some cases a minor positive element for an applicant who is also strong and prepared.”

In contrast, Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, said that “one study that looked at admissions to elite colleges in 1997 estimated that legacy status afforded applicants an admissions boost equivalent to an added 160 points on the SAT.”

Daniels wrote in an article for The Atlantic, legacy preferences are an American concept that is perplexing and runs counter to America’s commitment to the values of merit and equal opportunity.

One benefit of abolishing legacy admission is an increase in diversity, according to Daniels.

In a 2018 national movement encouraging a number of universities to disclose information on legacy admits, Mayra Valadez ’18 wrote that legacy preference often benefits white students, preventing low-income and first-generation students from entering.

Cornell, according to the Wall Street Journal, tallied a legacy population of 16.5 percent for the Class of 2021, while the students who received Pell Grants were listed as 16.2 percent.

Daniels recalled that the first year he arrived at Johns Hopkins, the school was comprised of 12.5 percent legacy students, which was more than the nine percent of students who were eligible for Pell Grants. However, after the changes, 3.5 percent of students are legacy students, while 19.1 percent are Pell-eligible, with that number expected to rise.

The decision to abolish legacy admission was not easy, Daniels explained. He told The Atlantic that defenders of the process argued that it is a powerful tool to maintain multigenerational bonds, which are helpful for a “robust network of dedicated alumni.”

Agreeing with the value of retaining a close alumni network, Cornell’s Burdick suggested that legacy and merit do not have to always be in conflict with each other: “Every student attending Cornell who has descended from a Cornell alumnus/na has achieved a lot in their own right, or they wouldn’t have earned admission.”