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Legacy plays a very important role and is often misunderstood in the college admissions process.

The standard definition of legacy is a parent who went to the same school that you’re applying to. For example, if your mom attended Cornell, and you’re applying early there, you’d be considered a legacy.

How much does being a legacy help?

I explain exactly that in my admissions guide to Ivy League schools, but let me give you a general sense for legacy matters.

First, Ivy League Universities like continuity of their student body.

If your mom went to Cornell, she has a close affinity to the school. Chances are, you will too. This all matters for alumni donations and alumni involvement. It all comes back to the money. $$$$$

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Some Ivy League schools care about legacy much more than others. This is borne out in statistics.

For example, both Princeton and Yale are well-known for their focus on legacies. Stanford and Harvard are less so.

In today’s college admissions environment, the legacy factor is in effect far beyond your parents. If your grandparents or great grandparents went to your target school, that can have a good influence. Even your brother or sister can have an influence.

Your cousin probably cannot.

Beyond alumni, giving, and involvement, why else is legacy important?

For Admissions committees (“AdComs”), being a legacy is often a way of filtering the applicant pool.

It’s very hard to tell how well someone will do at a school, but if their mom or dad went to that school, there’s a good chance that the applicant was raised in a positive atmosphere, educated well, and will perform well academically and personally as a member of the student body. If you are a legacy, you become a safer bet.

Legacy admissions is not remarkably different from the standard common application admissions process. AdComs review the Common Apps in exactly the same way.

The difference is that if you are, indeed, related directly to someone who attended Cornell (in this example) your application may be considered more closely.

In effect, it may help you if you’re in that gray area of being a good candidate but is not a guaranteed lock for admissions.

Let me repeat that: it is NOT a guaranteed lock for admissions!!

People often ask me if it will help them if their dad went to Harvard. Then they ask me if it would be helpful if he donated $1 million – or sometimes they ask about $10,000 or $100,000.

This is a tough question to answer.

The simple answer would be, “Yes it helps slightly under specific circumstances.”

Remember that there is a lot of competition. There are a whole host of variables that really affect us.

If you give $1 million, that a very large sum of money. It may play some role in your chances of getting into an Ivy League school. At smaller amounts, it typically doesn’t matter as much.

What matters much more is that your dad did, indeed, attend Harvard. This is the point that qualifies you as a true legacy student.

If you aren’t a legacy (like me), and don’t have rich parents (definitely like me), you still have a good chance of getting in. After all, I did it – just keep reading the articles on this site. You may also want to check out my guide mentioned below!

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The resume (aka “brag sheet”) is often overlooked by high school students in the college admissions process.

It is simply a summary of your activities and background in high school. It serves a very important role in the Ivy League admissions process.

If you want to get into Princeton, you’re going to need a great brag sheet.

Here are the main components:

First, keep it short!

Never, ever have a brag sheet/resume that is longer than one page.

Keep in mind that elite admissions strategies need a lot of work and the help of people who know what they’re doing!

Second, focus on providing more detail than the Common Application covers.

This means listing out important extracurricular activities and explaining very briefly what you did.

It doesn’t matter that you were in the art club. Write one or two sentences about exactly what you did there:
-Did you double the size of the club?
-Did you find two teacher advisers?

Don’t just say you were on the debate team:
-Did you win the regional policy debate?
-Were you vice president of the club?
-Did you participate in National Forensics League competitions?

Give details! Admissions committees love details!

The third thing you should do is demonstrate your length of commitment and intensity of commitment.


Remember that, in the end, the committee will add up the numbers. If they feel the numbers are too high (and my personal rule of thumb is it should never average out to more than 4 hours a day) they’re going to know you’re lying. That’s never good!

The most important thing is to show the duration of commitment. If you were in the forensics club for four years, talk about that. If you started the international culture club and were a member for three years, say so.

Ivy League schools love committed students.

Fourth, format it nicely.

Pay attention to the details of your brag sheet/resume. If you don’t pay attention to those details, the committee will assume you can’t pay attention in class. This means you can’t be a good student.

Make sure to ALIGN your paragraphs, DOUBLE CHECK for spelling errors, use BULLETS where appropriate, and keep FORMATTING of dates and titles consistent. Make it look like a truly professional resume.

Get help from an older brother or your parents, or even search online for good resume templates. Resumes are also known as curriculum vitae or CVs, for short.

Finally, write down things that you didn’t have a chance to communicate in your admissions essays, your short answers, or the Common App.

If you really love cooking French food and didn’t have a chance to show that, it’s okay to write about that in your brag sheet.

If you’re a black belt in tae kwon do, definitely write that down. The brag sheet is an opportunity to show another side of yourself, and trust me, admissions committees will read it.

They will love it if you add interesting details.

Just make sure you spell tae kwon do (or whatever you claim your favorite hobby or activity to be) correctly!

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