Most of you know what a legacy student is in the world of college admissions. For those of you who don’t know, a legacy student is someone who had a family member attend the college that the student is applying to. Typically this means a mother, father or sibling but some colleges include grandparents, aunts, uncles and others.
It is generally understood that a legacy student has a better chance of admissions to a selective college than a student that hasn’t had a family member attend. The reason is that colleges depend on donations from alumni and they know that they are more likely to get money if more than one person from the family went to the college.
While I know this, the amount of weight that some colleges put on legacy surprises even me. One of my students this past year applied early action to Stanford. The student is from a very competitive high school in California that sends many students to highly selective colleges like Stanford and the Ivy’s. The student was in the top 1% of her class with near perfect test scores. But, almost more importantly, the student had great extracurricular activities even when compared to my typical students. Unfortunately, the student did not get in early action and was deferred. That happens even with strong students so no real surprise there.
What was a surprise is that 5 other students from this high school were admitted to Stanford early action. All of the admitted students had lower grades and test scores and in some cases much lower. What the 5 did have was that all were legacies.
Stanford and other highly selective colleges want smart kids. But don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you are smart that this is enough. Sometimes being smart and talented gets trumped by factors over which you have no control over. And colleges like Stanford give up on talented students to admit less qualified students simply because a parent went to the college.
It’s not fair, but it is the reality of college admissions in the US. That is why I always tell my students, never apply only to highly selective colleges. Always make sure that you are applying to some colleges at which admissions is much more likely.
And in case some of you were worried about my student, don’t be. She is still waiting on a number of decisions but has received early write letters from 3 Ivy’s already.