All articles

What are Legacy Admissions?

a mother and daughter look at a list of schools with legacy admissions on a laptop

For decades, some colleges have given students who are related to alumni preferential treatment in admissions. This advantage, known as college legacy admissions, has been controversial. But it's recently come under enhanced scrutiny due to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race.

In 2020, just about half the four-year colleges in the United States indicated that they consider a "relation to alumni" in their admissions process. The use of legacy preferences is more common among private colleges and is especially prevalent in the northeast United States.

What is legacy admission?

Legacy admission is a practice in which colleges give special consideration to children of alumni when making an admissions decision. Some institutions, such as Stanford and UNC, only consider "primary legacy" status—where one or both applicant's parents are alumni. Yet, most schools will also grant favor to "secondary legacies" who claim a grandparent, sibling, or other non-parental familial affiliation to the school.

Why do colleges consider legacy admissions?

Experts agree that one of the primary motivators for institutions to give legacy preference is that it helps their bottom line.

Emilio Castilla, a professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, conducted a research study focused on data from a single unnamed institution over 16 years to determine why some schools still prefer legacy applicants.

Castillo said in an interview with U.S. News-Education:

“We found strong evidence that the college we studied benefits economically from admitting legacies. Legacy students are often more likely to be financially able to pay for tuition, require less aid, and are more likely to accept an offer from their legacy institution. Legacies may also be more likely to make larger and more frequent donations after graduation. Their legacy status can also incentivize continued donations from the related alumni.”

Legacy applicants usually contribute more financially to an institution, and the family ties to the school result in a sense of community among the students and the alumni.

Does legacy status improve your admissions chances?

If you already have solid grades and test scores, and your top-choice college is also your legacy school, applying Early Decision or Early Action might help your chances of admission.

Not only are early admission rates often higher than regular admission rates, but applying early also demonstrates interest, and identifying as a legacy can further demonstrate your commitment to attend if admitted.

Applying as a legacy can also impact your application strategy. Some institutions only consider legacy status if a student applies for E.D. or E.A. The advantages of applying as a legacy can be lost if you're not prepared to apply early at these colleges. So, do your research and be prepared to apply early.

Which colleges have the highest legacy admissions?

An analysis of the 100 highest-ranked colleges by Forbes magazine found that 78 percent of private institutions gave at least some consideration to legacy, compared with 15 percent of public colleges. Legacy status can significantly boost an applicant's chances at some of the nation's most competitive colleges.  

Another study found that legacy applicants from wealthy families were five times more likely than other students to gain admission to an Ivy League or Ivy-caliber school. Legacy applicants from less prosperous families were three times as likely to gain entry. 

Should colleges allow legacy admissions?

Many institutions with legacy admissions have faced increasing pressure to halt the practice, mainly from critics claiming the system favors more privileged applicants and decreases diversity on campus.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling against racial preferences in admissions at higher education institutions, many suggest that legacy admissions deserve equal scrutiny.  

Some schools that terminated legacy programs in recent years have reported noticeable changes in the demographic makeup of incoming classes, allowing students who might have been counted out previously due to lack of legacy status to have a fair chance to gain admission.

Which colleges have legacy admissions?

If you are applying to a college that considers legacy admissions and have a family member who attended, you should consider applying as a legacy applicant.

Wyoming, Nevada, and Alaska are the only states without universities or colleges providing a legacy admissions preference.

These five colleges consider legacy status "important" in their admissions decisions:

Boston College

Elon University

Oberlin College

Southwestern University

University of Puget Sound

These colleges give "some consideration" to legacy status in their admissions decisions:

Agnes Scott College

Allegheny College

Appalachian State University

Babson College

Bard College

Barnard College

Bates College

Baylor University

Beloit College

Bentley University

Berklee College of Music

Boston University

Bowdoin College

Brandeis University

Brown University

Bryant University

Bryn Mawr College

Bucknell University

Carleton College

Case Western Reserve University

Catholic University of America

Centre College

Champlain College

Claremont McKenna College

Clarkson University

Clemson University

Colby College

Colgate University

College of Charleston

College of the Atlantic

College of the Holy Cross

College of William and Mary

Colorado College

Colorado School of Mines

Columbia University in the City of New York

Connecticut College

Cornell College

Cornell University

Dartmouth College

Davidson College

Denison University

DePaul University

DePauw University

Dickinson College

Drake University

Drew University

Drexel University

Duke University

Duquesne University

East Carolina University

Eckerd College

Elizabethtown College

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Emory University

Fairfield University

Fashion Institute of Technology

Florida Institute of Technology

Florida International University

Florida Southern College

Fordham University

Franklin and Marshall College

Franklin W Olin College of Engineering

Furman University

George Washington University

Georgetown University

Georgia College & State University

Gettysburg College

Gonzaga University

Goucher College

Grinnell College

Grove City College

Gustavus Adolphus College

Hamilton College

Hampshire College

Hanover College

Harvard University

Harvey Mudd College

Haverford College

Hendrix College

Hillsdale College

Hobart William Smith Colleges

Hope College

Howard University

Illinois Institute of Technology

Illinois Wesleyan University

Ithaca College

James Madison University

Juniata College

Kalamazoo College

Kenyon College

Kettering University

Knox College

Lafayette College

Lake Forest College

Lawrence University

Le Moyne College

Lehigh University

Lewis & Clark College

Louisiana State University

Loyola Marymount University

Loyola University Maryland

Macalester College

Marquette University

Miami University-Oxford

Michigan State University

Middlebury College

Morehouse College

Mount Holyoke College

Muhlenberg College

New College of Florida

New Jersey Institute of Technology

New York University

North Carolina State University

Northwestern University

Occidental College

Ohio University

Ohio Wesleyan University

Pennsylvania State University

Pepperdine University

Princeton University

Providence College

Ramapo College of New Jersey

Reed College

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhodes College

Rice University

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rollins College

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Saint Anselm College

Saint Michael's College

Santa Clara University

Scripps College

Seattle University

Siena College

Skidmore College

Smith College

Southern Methodist University

St Lawrence University

St Olaf College

St. Mary's College of Maryland

Stanford University

Stetson University

Stevens Institute of Technology

Stonehill College

Stony Brook University

SUNY College at Geneseo

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Swarthmore College

Syracuse University

Temple University

Texas Christian University

The College of New Jersey

The University of Alabama

The University of Tampa

The University of the South

Towson University

Trinity College

Trinity University

Truman State University

Tufts University

Tulane University of Louisiana

Union College

United States Air Force Academy

United States Coast Guard Academy

United States Naval Academy

University of Arkansas

University of Central Florida

University of Chicago

University of Dallas

University of Delaware

University of Denver

University of Mary Washington

University of Massachusetts-Lowell

University of Miami

University of Minnesota-Duluth

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

University of New Hampshire

University of North Carolina at Asheville

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina Wilmington

University of Notre Dame

University of Oklahoma

University of Pennsylvania

University of Portland

University of Redlands

University of Rhode Island

University of Richmond

University of Rochester

University of San Francisco

University of Scranton

University of Southern California

University of St Thomas

University of Vermont

University of Virginia

Ursinus College

Vanderbilt University

Vassar College

Villanova University

Virginia Tech

Wabash College

Wake Forest University

Washington and Lee University

Washington College

Washington University in St Louis

Wellesley College

Wentworth Institute of Technology

Wesleyan University

Wheaton College

Wheaton College

Whitman College

Whittier College

Willamette University

Williams College

Wofford College

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Yale University

(This information was collected from Common Data Set Initiative, institution websites, and U.S. News Rankingsupdated November 2023)

Other Factors Beyond Legacy Admissions

Whether or not you plan to apply to a college that uses legacy admissions in its decision process, it's essential to remember that it's still only a single factor in the decision. Your GPA, extracurriculars, letter of recommendation, and possibly even test scores are the other pieces of your comprehensive college application. 

Because of this, we recommend using a tool like our college acceptance calculator. It will better help you understand how competitive you'll be at each school you apply to. With it, you can input your high school information and see how likely you'll be accepted. Just click the button below to get started. It's always free and easy to use. 

Create a free Appily account to find, finance, and attend the college that's right for you Get Started Now