Legacy=A Leg Up?

Written By Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner


When I discuss the higher education admission process with my clients, in an attempt to manage expectations, I often invoke the analogy of a single file line.  I say, “Guess who’s already in front of you?”

Those students that represent geographic and ethnic diversity certainly are.  Those who have celebrity parents and those who are recruited athletes are also closer to the entry gates.  Those so-called “development cases” who have extremely wealthy parents, who are prepared to give generously to the institution, are also ushered ahead. But what of this final category?  What exactly IS legacy?  What constitutes a legacy candidate?

Legacy is the term that refers to the circumstance in which an applicant’s mother or father attended the institution to which their child is applying. In some cases, it can go back an additional generation or branch out to an extended family member, but the rule of thumb is limited to parental alumni who received an undergraduate degree at said college or university. Legacy is a courtesy, if you will, extended to those who are members of the club of graduates and the supposition in the past has been that if the choice came down to a non-affiliated applicant and the child of a legacy, then the fat envelope would go to the youth who was born into that privilege.

But legacy has more to do with loyalty and institutional mission than it has to do with simply surname.
If someone has been loyal through regular (read annual) generous donations of time, talent or treasure (particularly the latter), then they have made a commitment to that institution above and beyond simply siphoning off an undergraduate degree.  If a graduate has done something to leave a legacy, taken an action, made the institution proud, that, in the institution’s collective mind deserves recognition. You see, legacy is a “gentleman’s handshake” intimating that if a child of a graduate applies, then that child has been raised in the understanding of the value of that institution and has in effect already become part of the spirit of the institution in a way that perhaps a non-affiliated applicant could not.
But be assured, not all legacy candidates are accepted.  If they were, at many institutions there would be no room in the pool for non-affiliated applicants.

For a recent look at the current conversation pertaining to legacy status,  peruse the January 2011 New York Times Article: http://mobile.nytimes.com/article?a=726146&f=21


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