Widgets Magazine


From a legacy: End preferential treatment

My dad went to Stanford, but why should the Admissions Office care?

On the Common Application, Stanford inquires about whether an applicant has a family member(s) who attended or is attending Stanford. Being a legacy guarantees that the applicant receives a second read in the admission process. It is unlikely that this makes any difference in the process – competitive applicants should be able to be spotted after one read – but nonetheless, this guarantee should be eliminated.

By itself, being a legacy to Stanford does not itself make a prospective student any more or less likely to succeed and fit in at Stanford, if admitted. While Stanford alumni may instill the value of hard work and the importance of education in their children, those values must be reflected in the student’s application – not taken for granted by giving legacy applicants preferential treatment. Applicants should be judged on their individual merits through the holistic process.

Critics of this opinion piece will argue that ending legacy considerations in the admission process will hurt the University’s ability to raise money, since most money is raised through alumni connections. This argument is divorced from reality. MIT ended its preferential policy in 2006 and saw virtually no financial consequences.

It is important to note that while legacies are admitted at two to three times the regular admission rate, changing the University’s legacy policy might not make any difference in changing this multiplier. Since we have no information regarding how many legacies attend Stanford, people can only speculate as to how many legacies (if any) get in on the sole basis of being a legacy.

Furthermore, research demonstrates that parental education strongly correlates to their child’s academic success. One reason researchers hypothesize is the importance parents place on academics. We should expect this to be true of Stanford graduates as well given the sense of intellectual vitality cultivated on campus. Additionally, Stanford alumni tend to have higher salaries than the average American. This additional amount of money may give children of alumni more academic opportunities, like attending private schools and achieving higher SAT scores.

Ending preferential treatment is supported in the history of the University and is in the interest of legacies and non-legacies. Originally tuition free and co-ed, Stanford’s legacy as an institution is to open the doors to those coming from all backgrounds. While this proposal to eliminate a guaranteed second read for legacies is mainly symbolic, this will be a step in the right direction to make college more open to people from walks of all life. This decision will also contrast Stanford with other Ivy Leagues, like Harvard, that have higher legacy acceptance rates than Stanford does. Stanford prides itself on being independent and unique from the Ivy League institutions. As Vice Provost Harry Elam amusingly noted at the 2014 Convocation ceremony, “Unburdened by 350 years of Ivy, Stanford isn’t bound by, nor does it cling to outdated traditions…”

For non-legacies, this will level the playing field and make the process appear more legitimate, ending a seemingly aristocratic process. For legacy students, this will put an end to the sometimes present latent animus that they were admitted through no fault of their own. Moreover, legacy students who attend Stanford, but would have been denied if they were not a legacy, will end up worse off. Students matriculate in colleges where they will be a good fit, and if the Admission Office admits someone who did not truly belong at Stanford, that will ultimately ruin the student’s undergraduate experience.

To show that the University values its connection with alumni, Stanford should continue its policy of sending a letter to legacy applicants’ parents a month before the admission decisions are released. (In this letter there is a phone number for alumni to call and information about the admissions process.)

While the 2014-2015 application process is drawing to a conclusion, the Stanford Office of Admissions should strongly consider making next year’s admissions process legacy-blind. It is for the betterment of both legacies and non-legacies, but most importantly, it is consistent with the spirit of Stanford. After Leland Stanford, Junior died, the Stanfords wrote, “the children of California will be our children.” There was no distinction between legacies and non-legacies. The Office of Admissions should realize our founder’s vision and end the distinction.

Contact Matthew Cohen at mcohen18 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

About Matthew Cohen

Matthew Cohen is an opinions fellow for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Orange County, Matthew is interested in politics and plans to declare a major in political science. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing piano, running, and watching Netflix. Contact him at mcohen18 'at' stanford.edu
  • Daniel

    I wholeheartedly agree. Stanford should be a place where people can get in and excel on their own merits, not those of their parents.

  • D

    Thank you, and thank you for your openness!

  • Bob

    I think it’s best for the school that it continues its legacy preference policy. Bottom line is: the school needs resources to function. Admitting legacy students (who are qualified, of course) allows the school to continue to fund projects and research that better not only those on the Stanford campus, but the entire world.

  • ’17

    Does he also advocate ending racial preferences? The average admitted legacy is MORE qualified than the average admitted student. The same cannot be said about the average admitted black or Hispanic student.

  • ’15 Legacy

    ^agree. Especially given the surfeit of qualified candidates, legacy preferences simply acts as a tiebreaker

  • Not A Legacy

    However, creating an environment where legacies return makes Stanford have a community feel. Legacies love Stanford, and create Stanford families who return to Stanford for their lifetimes. Not only do they give financial return, the contribute to the Stanford community.

  • chaeobol123

    You can try to put a smokescreen on the issue by citing fake data all you want, but legacy-based and race-based admissions are the same thing. At the end of the day, they’re both affirmative action and they should be seen in the same light. If you’re white and your parents came to Stanford, you’re an affirmative action baby. Own it and get over it. And guess what? Your dad and mom, or grandpa and grandma, are probably affirmative action babies as well since their whiteness is what enabled them to get in. If anyone has benefitted from race-based admissions policies, it’s been white people. Before with blatant discrimination against blacks, Jews, and Hispanics, and today with this vague “legacy admissions”, which is just a cop-out for allowing less Asians in lieu for less qualified whites.