Ivy League Admission Tips: An Overview of Legacy Admissions

The Ivy League admission process is certainly complex—students can take a myriad of different approaches toward crafting an outstanding applicant profile. Each student’s academic interests, talents, and extracurricular activities will vary, but all college applicants should work hard to develop a compelling theme and narrative.

Your unique circumstances and goals will constitute an important part of your admissions narrative and will help you decide on your theme. For example, being a legacy applicant can help your admissions profile stand out. In this article, we provide an overview of legacy admissions and explain how you can use this status to your advantage.

What is a Legacy Applicant?

A legacy applicant is the child of an alumnus. At top colleges, the definition tends to be fairly narrow: the parent must have graduated from the undergraduate college. However, some undergraduate colleges consider an applicant as having legacy status if their parent attended their graduate school. However, being the sibling, grandchild, or great-grandchild of a graduate will not make you a legacy applicant.

Why Being a Legacy Applicant Matters

Of course, you have no control over whether you are a legacy applicant, but if one of your parents attended a top college, your chances of being admitted there are significantly higher—about twice as much as other applicants.

While a 20 to 40% chance of being admitted is far better than a 10 to 20% chance, not all legacy applicants are admitted. In fact, roughly two-thirds of legacy applicants are rejected, so legacy status does not guarantee admission to the best schools. Still, it can make a significant difference in the admissions process.

Why Legacy Students Matter to Colleges

Admitting legacy students at a higher rate than others may seem unfair, but top colleges have several incentives to do so.

First, top-tier schools see legacy admissions as a recognition of the special relationship between a school and its alumni—a connection between past and future students. This preference for legacy applicants is not really concerned with fairness, and none of the top colleges try to hide their preferential treatment of legacy applicants. Still, many alumni are disappointed each year because their children’s applications are rejected.

Second, prioritizing legacy admissions is financially beneficial for top schools. Alumni are often generous donors to their alma maters. Moreover, while regular donations won’t affect your chances of admission (unless those donations are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars), alumni donations can help a school’s finances. Legacy applicants provide a short-term economic benefit, but they also result in a more long-term advantage: a loyal alumnus and potential donor.

Ivy League Admission Strategies for Legacy Applicants

If you are a legacy applicant, you should certainly leverage that status in your application to increase your chances of admission. However, keep in mind that being a legacy applicant will in no way make up for a weak admissions profile.

Legacy applicants with mid-range academic ratings have better chances of being admitted than other applicants of comparable academic rank, but the pool of applicants to any given highly selective college is still very competitive. Therefore, you shouldn’t rely on legacy status. Instead, craft a compelling profile that stands on its own merits—being a legacy applicant should serve only to complement an already excellent profile.

The truth is that no preexisting advantage—not even legacy status—will gain you admission to a top college. Rather, your exemplary academic record, clear application theme and narrative, and fitting extracurricular activities will impress the admissions officers and get you admitted into your top-choice schools.