Continue the College Legacy or Create Your Own?

There’s no doubt that being a legacy applicant can give you an advantage in the college admissions process. But are there other factors to consider? Learn what else you should take into account.

Getting into a competitive college is, of course, hard work, and many students look for any available edge in the admissions process.

Being a legacy student — that is, the child or close relative of an alum of the college or university where you’re applying — could be the factor that lands your application in the accepted pile.

But is this your best bet?

Legacy Advantage

When it comes to getting into college or graduate school, it may seem unfair — particularly to non-legacy students — that an applicant’s family tree can trump standardized test scores, academic merit, teacher recommendations, and extracurriculars (or overcome the lack thereof!). But many competitive colleges and universities, including Ivy League institutions, are known for their preferential treatment of legacy applicants. Ironically, President George W. Bush, who admits to having eked his way through Yale University as a third-generation legacy, has actually made public his distaste for legacy admissions and favors admissions based solely on personal merit.

If you are a legacy student applying to college, you may wonder whether you even want to follow in the footsteps of a family member, regardless of what many consider to be the golden ticket of higher education. Should you continue the family tradition or forge a new path all on your own? Here are three different viewpoints on leveraging your status as a college legacy:

1. An Admissions Consultant’s Perspective

Eric Allen is president of Admit.me, a company that works with high school students across the country to help them strengthen their applications to selective colleges. His advice is not to pass up on the benefit of legacy status, especially for applicants who are aiming for acceptance at several elite schools.

“Given the competitiveness of the application process, we strongly encourage our candidates to leverage legacy colleges/universities as a diversification strategy since there is usually an advantage for legacy applicants, especially [those] of involved parents,” he says.

2. A Student’s Perspective

Tim Beyers, a writer based in Littleton, Colorado, earned his master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. Despite the competitive nature of admissions for this prestigious grad school (where only about a third of applicants are admitted), he opted not to share that he was a legacy when applying. He was “hiding in plain sight,” as he puts it, because his last name was not the same as that of his family members, who happened to be notable alumni of Syracuse’s medical school. Why did he purposely choose to make things harder for himself?

“First, I wanted to succeed on my own merits,” explains Beyers. “But second, I was already facing long odds: decent but pedestrian GPA coming from a tiny undergrad in Southern California. Also, [I] didn’t have the money for graduate tuition. I had to get the full-time deal I was going for or there would be no grad degree. What would be the point of trading on a name, getting in, and then turning down the offer for lack of funds?”

It was an interesting move that paid off. It’s important to note that while many schools offer scholarships to outstanding legacies, other institutions consider the mere acceptance of the legacy applicant to be enough of an honor.

3. A Parent’s Perspective

When parents look back fondly on their own college experiences, it’s no surprise that many want their children to attend their alma maters.

Pete Abilla, Founder & CEO of a tutoring company and a graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, would like his children to follow in his higher education footsteps. His alma mater is a private institution that was founded by and supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As such, there is a strong sense of faith shared by current students and alumni alike.

“I feel if my children go to Brigham Young, it would help them maintain their faith and learn in an environment of support for their values,” Abilla says. While he would be “OK” with his children attending another college or university, Abilla supports them continuing his legacy because it “would make me proud and I would worry less for them. I feel that if they attended another university, the environment may not be as supportive of their values as BYU will be,” he says.

An Additional Consideration

There’s no doubt that legacy admission gives students the competitive edge that many are hoping for. Of course, there is one perpetual issue: Children have always rebelled against their parents. Allen and his Admit.me colleagues know well that rebellion often raises its ugly head during the college admissions process.

“[I]t’s up to … parents to let their kids explore the school for themselves and make their own decision,” Allen says. “Kids are a lot more likely to lean right if their parents want them to lean left, so empower [them] through the admissions process and let them find their own way.”

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