Legacy and Donations…Do They Make a Difference In the College Application Process?

Legacy and Donations…Do They Make a Difference In the College Application Process?

Before applying to college, when I heard the term “legacy” I assumed it referred to an inheritance or an asset that a person leaves in their will.  Only when my own college application process was underway did I start hearing things at my high school like “He’s a double legacy.  His dad and his granddad went to Stanford so he’ll apply early and get in.”  Or “Oh she’ll definitely get into Princeton.  She’s a legacy.”   For someone like me whose parents did not attend four year colleges, there was no discussion of university legacies during our dinner conversations.  My parents worked very hard to send us to the best schools and give us the education that they did not have.  I’ll never forget the day they moved me into my dorm when I started as a college freshman – there was a wonder in my parents’ eyes as if they were new students on campus too.

We all know the college application process is highly competitive and every student should highlight aspects of their application that boost their admission chances.  So, do legacy and donations make a difference in the college application process?  Absolutely.  If someone’s mom or dad graduated from a specific university, it definitely gives them an advantage in the admissions process for that same university.  If someone’s parents donate $10 million to fund a school building, of course the admissions committee at that school will look upon them favorably during decision-making.  The same goes for business school, career networking, etc.  If your mom has an executive position at a company and you apply for a job, it is likely that your application will get pushed to the top.  Is it fair?  Maybe not, but it’s the real world.  If you had that advantage, wouldn’t you use it too?

Of course sometimes we may look at these individuals and think, that person did not deserve to get the job.  Or, that person did not have the SAT scores to be accepted to Princeton.  That said, there is another side of the story.  At times you may hear people discount college applicants or admits simply BECAUSE they happen to be a legacy, or because their parents happen to be wealthy donors. More than once I have heard people comment, “She only got in because she was a legacy.”  Or,  “His parents made a huge donation so obviously he got in.”  Never mind that the individual was a concert violinist, star volleyball player, president of the school, AND oh yes, his dad also went to the university. Often those legacies or wealthy sons and daughters are incredible students who most likely would have been accepted to the school of their choice regardless of their family background.  We can certainly argue that privileged backgrounds in general allow for more opportunities and increased accessibility to top colleges, but so goes life. To give an extreme example, children born in free countries where they can safely walk to school and receive an education will automatically have an advantage in life compared to those children born in countries ravaged by civil war.

In sum, don’t knock the legacies or children of major donors just because of their families.  Look at these students as individuals – perhaps their intellectual knowledge and natural capabilities would surprise you.  At the end of the day colleges will accept a certain number of legacies and donors and reject a certain number of legacies and donors.  Universities pride themselves on creating diverse communities with students from all socio-economic backgrounds.  When I was in college 75% of my classmates received financial assistance at some level.  Rather than let the advantages of the “privileged” irritate or intimidate you, let it motivate you to work a little harder, prove your talents, and focus on your own admission advantages.


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