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The Role of Legacy In Ivy League Admissions

by John

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!

Want to attend Ivy League schools? Check out my insider’s course and guide to getting into Harvard, even with a 1360 SAT from a public high school. Comes with 50 ACTUAL apps and essays from students admitted to Brown, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and more!

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