US study finds legacy advantage at elite schools may count more than previously thought

January 7, 2011

A Harvard University researcher who examined the impact of legacy status at 30 highly selective colleges concludes that legacy applicants got a 23.3 percentage point increase in their probability of admission. If the applicants' connection was a parent who attended the institution as an undergraduate, the increase was 45.1 percentage points. The study sheds light on advantages that schools themselves may not have been fully aware of. The researcher controlled for a wider range of variables, including student character and high school activities, than had traditional analyses. In doing so, the researcher found that the other, more common method underestimates the advantage for legacies. The study's author cautions that because of the size of the applicant pools at the sample institutions, legacy admits do not greatly decrease other applicants' already-long odds of acceptance. The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)