An Unjust Legacy

Harvard should be clear about how it treats legacy applicants and should not give them any preference

Harvard’s practice of admitting a disproportionate number of applicants who are related to alumni has routinely made headlines through the years. Most recently, some students and alumni of the College signed a letter to university administrators across the country asking for transparency on how legacy applicants are treated in the admissions process, arguing that preference for legacy admissions is “hampering economic mobility.”

We stand by our precedent that abolishing preferential treatment for legacy applicants would be a positive step towards socioeconomic justice. We remain steadfast in our belief that legacy status should not be a consideration in the admissions process.

While we acknowledge there are likely a variety of reasons for why children of alumni are accepted into the College at a higher rate than non-legacy students, we call on Harvard to be more transparent on exactly how legacy status factors into the admissions process. The College’s FAQ site vaguely states that legacy students “may receive an additional look.” We urge the College to be more forthcoming about what this means in practice. To that end, Harvard ought to release its relevant policies and data to illustrate how legacy impacts its decision calculus.

We are also perplexed by administrators’ claim that legacy admits are “better candidates on average” to enter Harvard. If this is true, then removing legacy status from consideration would not substantially diminish family connections to the University nor the donations that comes from them. It would simply render the admissions process more meritocratic.

If legacy admits are truly “better candidates,” their advantages likely result from an intersection between socioeconomic status and educational opportunity. While the median household income in the U.S. is about $59,000, a Crimson report found that 88 percent of surveyed legacy students matriculating last year come from households with incomes over $125,000. The college admissions process is already skewed in favor of these students, as tutoring, SAT prep, and the freedom to forgo a job during the school year are all benefits that many of these students have that many of their peers do not. Though it may be through no fault of their own, students from privileged backgrounds are already granted a huge advantage on their competition. At the very least, their parents’ personal ties to Harvard should not grant them an additional advantage.

By giving legacy applicants a leg up in the application and admissions process, Harvard displays a lack of commitment to its professed dedication to diversity for incoming classes. The College admissions website states students at the College share “an infinite range of experiences and aspirations.” This range of experiences and aspirations is dramatically compressed by the prioritization of familial connections. If Harvard’s wishes to achieve its professed objective of achieving a diverse learning environment, it should endeavor to find the most capable and accomplished students from all sectors of society. Legacy preference undermines that goal.

Harvard prides itself on cultivating the future leaders, artists, scholars, and scientists of the world. For it to maintain this reputation, it must seek out applicants who indicate great promise in their chosen field—and one’s parents should not be that indicator. We acknowledge that the socioeconomic disparities that hinder some applicants from marketing themselves to Harvard will not be eradicated overnight. Yet removing preferential treatment for legacies will be a welcome and overdue step forward.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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