Changing College Admissions: Goodbye legacy preferences – What it means for you

With the recent news that Wesleyan University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Minnesota dropping the use of legacy preference, we can add a 3rd shockwave to changing college admissions practices in recent years.  The first being the dramatic acceleration of testing optional/blind policies spurred on by COVID, the second being the recent Supreme Court decision regarding race-conscious admission and now, finally, a worthwhile revisiting of legacy preferences.  Here’s what that means and why it matters.   


The history
  • What many folks may not realize is that the origins of legacy preferences are pretty grim. They started as a means for wealthy Anglo-Protestant populations in the 1920s to keep out increasing applications by Jewish, working class, and Catholic students (1).     
  • Institutions that employ the practice admit legacy applicants at a rate two to five times higher than applicants without a parent alum. While that may sound great for certain kids, in practice, this has meant fewer spots for all deserving applicants. So, if you have a child who may want to go to a school different from your alma mater, they have worse odds even if they’re highly qualified.  
  • This is a continuation of a trend that many elite intuitions have already implemented. Johns Hopkins ended their legacy admissions practices 10 years ago and saw a positive increase in the diversity of their student body. Many elite public schools, like the University of California system, abolished legacy-oriented policies decades ago.   


The impact
  • Whether said aloud or not, it’s a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to end race-conscious admissions. It is a way to free up more spots to be earned based on individual student merit.   
  • This could positively impact all students in ways that allow them to attend the college of their choice. It will also hopefully benefit many groups that the current system does not, including first generation, low income, and minority applicants as well as qualified students who want more choice over where they go to school.  
  • We understand there may be disappointment for some families hoping their kids would benefit from legacy preferences – we get it, all want the best for our kids. That said, we have years of experience helping students overcome whatever barriers may be between where they are and where they want to go, so you can still be a legacy family, even with changes in legacy admissions practices. 


Revolution Prep’s stance:  
  • We believe this change is a good one for students. It reduces the impact of where parents went to school on a student’s future. For those hoping to go to the same elite schools as their parents, we believe they will still benefit, but likely more from the education and opportunities the school gave their parents, rather than technicalities.    
  • The steps it takes to gain admission to the most selective schools are also things that serve students well in life. Challenging yourself with rigorous coursework, demonstrating your leadership abilities inside and outside of the classroom, and improving skillsets like time management and emotional regulation – are all things you can shape. This is an opportunity to encourage all students to address important factors that impact life-long success now.    
  • We welcome more changes. Building upon increases in test-optional admissions to changes like this, there are plenty of things that could be addressed and improved in the U.S.’s stagnant view on college admissions. Things like striving to be a more cohesive K-16 system rather than K-12, the impact of donor funding on admissions outcomes, and taking a hard look at campus expansion policies are all things we hope to see change to make the college admissions process more transparent and less stressful for families.  


We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a win for students from all backgrounds, legacy or not. We are excited for a world where colleges are focused on the accomplishments of the next generation rather than the legacy of the past.  


To learn more about the ways we support students with academic skills and life skills check out or reach out to your local Revolutionary (that’s what we call our team members).  

1Coe, Deborah L., and James D. Davidson. “The Origins of Legacy Admissions: A Sociological Explanation.”Review of Religious Research 52, no. 3 (2011): 233–47.   

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