Among the great mysteries of the world is the formula for college admissions at top colleges. In an effort to help demystify the process, John Thelin takes an historical perspective here at insidehighered.com:
“Fair Harvard” is not always fair. That allegation cuts to the heart of the lawsuit about admissions decisions made by Harvard University. The suit has created a courtroom drama in Boston fueled by voluminous statistical data and provides an arena for dueling economists and also for wistful recollections by deans and alumni, who tell about their own college application experiences. The case has attracted national headlines because reporters hope that court testimonies will reveal the secret of getting into Harvard.
In addition to looking forward to each day’s court proceedings for revelations, it is also useful to look backward to explain the mysteries of selective college admissions. If you want a blueprint for the admissions master plan, take a look at the 1961 book by Katherine Kinkead, How an Ivy League College Decides on Admissions. The author provided readers an insider account of a round of admissions decisions, all of which reinforced the message that this was no easy job. Even though the story is more than a half century old, this slim volume provides a glimpse and an approving, sympathetic nod to the design and culture of selective admissions still in place today. And since Kinkead’s focus was on Yale of 1961, we get a reprieve from exclusive preoccupation with Harvard of 2018.
In the early 1960s, brochures, correspondence and interviews used by an Ivy League college admissions office sought to promote at least the appearance of a personal touch. Ultimately, however, all information, from transcripts, reference letters and test scores, had to be coded so that staff members could make succinct ratings for comparisons across the applicant pool. Yale was innovative in using “computing machines” for processing student data. This early foray into technology was simplistic by our standards today, but was cutting-edge at the time. It signaled reliance on quantitative records to help make qualitative decisions. Despite such technological innovation, stacks of manila folders and file cabinets stuffed with application materials made admissions offices crowded and hectic places to work.
US News provides six tips from college admissions professionals:
#1: Build on Your Academic Strengths
#2: Get a Handle on the Tests
#3: Think Outside Your Schools Extracurriculars
#4: Consider Recommendations Early
#5: Do a Social Media Check
#6: Show Up, to the Extent You Are Able
Margaret Loftus gives more info on what the pros have to say here:
Ever since Jack Maloney played the Artful Dodger in a local children’s theater production of the musical “Oliver!” when he was 6, he knew he wanted to be a professional actor.
The theater program at his school, Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, was still finding its footing during his early years there, so Maloney took it upon himself to create and stage productions, including a concert of songs from the musical “Rent” and a full production of “Urinetown” that he developed out of an honors performance class. He also helped get the course into the curriculum by writing a proposal in collaboration with his theater teacher and lobbying administrators.
Now a freshman at Pennsylvania State University—University Park studying musical theater, Maloney believes that his resourcefulness – and highlighting that in his college essays – was a big factor in getting into his three top choices. The others were Northwestern University in Illinois and the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.
He also elaborated on his experiences in interviews whenever he got the chance. “I wrote my own story,” he says, “and it was much more compelling in the end.”
College counselors have long urged high school students to find and focus on their passion. But developing it to create new opportunities for yourself and others can really grab the attention of admissions officers.
For many of them, there’s a certain sameness to the applications they read, so when prospective students carve out their own opportunities, colleges notice, says Maria Laskaris, former dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College and now a senior private counselor at Top Tier Admissions, a company focused on helping applicants navigate the admissions process. “We tell students to push beyond what the school offers,” Laskaris says.
U.S. News talked to experts to find out how to make your college application stand out.
This is the question that Harvard admissions officers had to answer in court testimony. Nell Gluckman provides more details on the case here in the The Chronicle of Higher Education:
How exactly do Harvard College admissions officials think about race when they are evaluating hundreds of applications? Three admissions officers had to answer detailed questions about their process in court on Wednesday as part of a trial challenging
Harvard’s admissions policies.
Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that opposes affirmative action, has accused the college, Harvard’s undergraduate division, of discriminating against Asian-American applicants. If all goes according to plan, Wednesday marked the halfway point in the three-week trial in a federal court here. Harvard has denied the plaintiff’s claims, saying race is never considered a negative factor in admissions.
Transcripts without grades? Yes, that’s right. A coalition of high schools are on the path to transcripts that dispense with grades. Scott Jaschik explains in his article in www.insidehighered.com:
More than 100 elite private high schools aim to replace traditional transcripts with competency-based, nonstandardized documents — with no grades. They plan to expand to public high schools, with goal of completely changing how students are evaluated.
What if traditional high school transcripts — lists of courses taken, grades earned and so forth — didn’t exist?
That’s the ambition of a new education reform movement, which wants to rebuild how high schools record the abilities of students — and in turn to change the way colleges evaluate applicants. Sounds like quite a task. But the idea is from a group with considerable clout and money: more than 100 private schools around the country, including such elite institutions as the Dalton School and the Spence School in New York City, plus such big guns as the Cranbrook Schools in Michigan, the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.
The organizers of the effort believe all kinds of high schools and colleges are ready for change, but they argue that it will take the establishment to lead this particular revolution. Organizers believe that if more than 100 such elite private schools embrace a new transcript, they will attract supporters in higher ed who will embrace the approach for fear of losing top applicants (both in terms of their academics and ability to pay). And then the plan could spread — over perhaps a decade — to public high schools as well. Along the way, the group hopes to use the ideas of competency-based education — in which demonstration of mastery matters and seat time does not — to change the way high schoolers are taught.
The group is called the Mastery Transcript Consortium, and the product it hopes to create is the mastery transcript. It would not include courses or grades, but levels of proficiency in various areas. Instead of saying a student earned a certain grade in Spanish 2, the mastery transcript might say the student can understand and express ideas in some number of languages. And there could be different levels of mastery. Instead of a grade in algebra or geometry, the mastery transcript would indicate whether a student can understand and use various kinds of concepts. The document above is a model for what a list of credits might look like, but officials stressed this could change considerably.
Further, the model envisions that each credit earned would be backed up by examples of student work, so an admissions officer could see lab reports, essays and so forth.
In some ways, the project sounds like the “digital locker” the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is promoting as an option for college applicants — one that could start well before someone is ready to apply to college. And the mastery project organizers have been in touch with coalition leaders. But the difference with mastery is that there is no additional digital requirement to build something — this would be the natural result of going through high school.
The Edward E. Ford Foundation on Tuesday announced a $2 million grant to support the effort, and the initial schools involved have pledged to raise money to match that grant.
Patricia Russell has taken a yearlong leave from her position as a dean at Phillips Academy to help get the effort moving toward pilots with a small group of high schools and colleges. Among the requirements to participate: no grades and no standardization. She said each high school would be required to come up with its own system for evaluating student knowledge and skills. “It has to vary from school to school,” she said, and the idea is to move away from identifying students by some number representing their achievement.
Mastery in this context is closely related to the competency idea much discussed these days in higher education. A student could earn mastery after completing a program of study with a teacher or simply by showing mastery gained independently. “What the mastery transcript does is completely disentangle seat time and course credits,” she said.
Public high schools should be part of the process, Russell said, and they are already being consulted. But she said private schools, with their ability to operate free from politicians who might interfere, are best suited to get this process off the ground. She also said the great respect of top colleges for the graduates of these schools means the process will be taken seriously.
“The distinct reason why this project is being founded by a group of independent schools is that we are more nimble and have had disproportionate access to highly selective higher education.”
But she said “absolutely this can scale” and the long-term goal is to have this approach do away with traditional high school grades and transcripts.
The original idea for the project came from Scott Looney, head of school of the Hawken School, a private institution in Cleveland. In an interview, he said that he wanted to experiment with a transcript of the sort the consortium is designing. When he spoke to contacts in the college admissions world, they said that if his school acted alone, they would hate the idea, as they would need to figure out how to read the new transcript and how to compare applicants using it with those at schools with more traditional transcripts. So he asked them how they would feel if he got 25 other schools to join in the effort, and they liked the idea. (The model above comes from the initial efforts at Hawken.)
Looney said he realized then that he couldn’t act alone.
He also said he wants all students — including those at public schools — to have the options being created. One possibility, he said, is that if public schools lag a bit in producing these new mastery transcripts, teachers at his school (and others) could review portfolios of their work and certify their masteries. “Why do you have to attend Hawken to have Hawken certify you?” he asked.
Once the new mastery transcript takes hold, he said, colleges will value it over traditional materials they currently receive.
Looney said that, initially, he expected the use of the mastery transcript might encourage colleges to pay more attention to standardized-test scores. Admissions officers “may default to measures that they know,” he said.
But once they get comfortable with the new transcript, Looney predicted, they will find it superior to any information they currently get from test scores. In some cases, state legislation would be needed to allow public universities to alter admissions standards, but he said he thought that could happen in time.
Eventually, he said, many of the elements that make up rankings methodologies could be challenged as well. The transcript is designed to avoid not only grades but class rank (part of the U.S. News & World Report methodology). If more colleges drop standardized-test requirements, something happening already, that could undercut another part of the rankings methodology.
Much work remains to be done, he said, describing the process as taking up to 10 years, and longer in states where laws would need to change to permit high schools to report student achievement in new ways. In some cases, schools might use both approaches. But Looney said that when top colleges embrace this idea, which he predicted they would in time, the current system would be replaced. Already, he said, the organization has been having discussions with college admissions leaders and presidents anxious for change.
He pledged one thing amid the pilots and work ahead: “We will design this intentionally to make it impossible to distill a student into a single number.”
Reactions and Questions
Several admissions experts, reached late Tuesday, said they were just learning about the concept and needed to study it.
Michael Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said via email that he saw both potential and challenges in the idea, about which he said he needs to learn more.
“My initial read is that this would be a good set of information to augment a traditional transcript but, by itself, could harm students seeking to attend institutions that are mandated to evaluate admissions, at least in part, on completion of a core set of courses and the performance (grades) in those courses,” he said. “It is not unlike the challenge of higher education institutions looking to develop outcome or competency transcripts. Until these are common currency, students would be negatively impacted when they seek to transfer to more traditional institutions if that is the only document they present. Promising, but I’d like to hear how it would be transitioned into the existing processes.”
More sleep is lost on the essay than any other part of the college application. One of the reasons is the difficulty and choosing the topic. This article in the New York Times won’t make it any easier, but it is also nice to hear how a few others handled it:
Each year, we issue an open casting call for high school seniors who have dared to address money, work or social class in their college application essays. From the large pile that arrived this spring, these four — about parents, small business, landscapes and the meaning a single object can convey — stood out. A fifth essay lives in The New York Times’s new Snapchat Discover.
At age 6, I remember the light filled openness of the house, how the whir of my mother’s vacuum floated from room to room. At 9, I remember how I used to lounge on the couch and watch Disney cartoons on the sideways refrigerator of a TV implanted in a small cave in the wall. At 12, I remember family photographs of the Spanish countryside hanging in every room. At 14, I remember vacuuming each foot of carpet in the massive house and folding pastel shirts fresh out of the dryer.
I loved the house. I loved the way the windows soaked the house with light, a sort of bleach against any gloom. I loved how I could always find a book or magazine on any flat surface.
But the vacuum my mother used wasn’t ours. We never paid for cable. The photographs weren’t of my family. The carpet I vacuumed I only saw once a week, and the pastel shirts I folded I never wore. The house wasn’t mine. My mother was only the cleaning lady, and I helped.
My mother and father had come as refugees almost twenty years ago from the country of Moldova. My mother worked numerous odd jobs, but once I was born she decided she needed to do something different. She put an ad in the paper advertising house cleaning, and a couple, both professors, answered. They became her first client, and their house became the bedrock of our sustenance. Economic recessions came and went, but my mother returned every Monday, Friday and occasional Sunday.
She spends her days in teal latex gloves, guiding a blue Hoover vacuum over what seems like miles of carpet. All the mirrors she’s cleaned could probably stack up to be a minor Philip Johnson skyscraper. This isn’t new for her. The vacuums and the gloves might be, but the work isn’t. In Moldova, her family grew gherkins and tomatoes. She spent countless hours kneeling in the dirt, growing her vegetables with the care that professors advise their protégés, with kindness and proactivity. Today, the fruits of her labor have been replaced with the suction of her vacuum.Continue reading →
Working as a gatekeeper at Yale gave me lasting insight into the formation of the American elite.
My colleagues and I were sent to scour the country looking for the best and the brightest young minds. In the fall, I went everywhere, from Charleston, W.Va., to Kokomo, Ind., to Montreal, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
I was welcomed with varying degrees of energy and enthusiasm. In Ohio, an eager headmaster at a boarding school took me to a nice lunch and toured me around the campus in his convertible with the top down. At a large public school outside Detroit, I sat outside the cafeteria at a sticky table chatting with a representative from a local cosmetology school. Largely ignored by the students, we passed the time talking about the challenges of having very fine hair.
Brilliance and stunts
After the recruitment season wrapped up, the admissions staff returned in the late fall to New Haven and started the early-decision process. We would spend hour after hour poring over huge stacks of applications and green-bar computer reports.
We parsed transcripts and called guidance counselors with questions like: “So far, there seem to be three students ranked number one in your school who have applied to Yale. How do you account for that?” As a first step, two staff members read each application and assigned it an overall ranking of 1 (TAKE THIS KID!) to 4 (NO WAY!).
The applicants were an impressive lot. A girl wrote a brilliant feminist essay — worthy of Harper’s, really — about gender and socialization, revealing that she was a phantom serial farter in public and yet no one ever suspected because of her gender.
An aspiring art major sent in a dazzling, poster-size pen-and-ink drawing of himself suspended high over the campus on a pair of gymnastic rings, his body forming a perfect Y for Yale. A Vietnamese refugee wrote about finding solace in a school in Nebraska after a near-death experience as a “boat person” when she was
6 years old. They all waltzed into the freshman class.
Being too clever could backfire.
A self-saboteur from Chicago wrote her essay about her fear of going to the dentist — in backward letters, colored pen, and a spiral “Yellow Brick Road” pattern; not the kind of thing you want to tackle in a mirror at midnight.
‘An overeager Eagle Scout on the wait list pitched a tent on the lawn of the Admissions Office to show how ardently he was interested. I am sure he enjoyed Haverford.’
– Ed Boland
A few years before, an overeager Eagle Scout from Pennsylvania on the wait list had pitched a tent on the lawn of the Admissions Office to show how ardently he was interested. I am sure he enjoyed Haverford.
Having the president of Stanford write you a letter of recommendation to Yale might seem like a good idea, but it resulted in a note from the dean that said, “If he’s so enamored of the kid, let Stanford use a spot on him.”
It was the kiss of death when the daughter of a prominent alum from Columbus, Ohio, “discovered” she was one-sixteenth American Indian and checked the box for Native American.
And then there were the athletes. After fierce pressure from the athletic department, I had to admit a highly sought-after French Canadian hockey recruit. He had crappy grades, dismal scores, and his essay consisted of one sentence scribbled hastily in pencil: “I want to bée a great hockey player.” To add insult to injury, he decided to go to Boston University.
‘Reject the state!’
After the preliminary votes were cast, the Admissions Committee was convened. Composed of faculty members, deans, and the most senior admissions representatives, they served as judge, jury and executioner for the nearly 14,000 applicants.
Because competition was fierce and time short, you had to make your notes about the kids you were advocating for pithy and almost Zagat-guide-esque:
“Another hothouse flower with a perfect GPA, pass!”
“Virtuoso bassoonist and published poet at 17, an Eli to the core.”
“Milquetoast, yes, but brilliant milquetoast.”
“AP English teacher (Yale Class of ’79) says she is the most original thinker she ever taught, not just a ‘rara avis’ but ‘rarisima avis.’ ”
Any member of the committee could challenge you to back up your recommendation on any candidate in your region. After you made your case and answered their questions, the committee of eight or so would decide a candidate’s fate on a wacky voting machine, rumored to have been specially designed by some nerdy electrical-engineering major. It had small electric consoles from which members would anonymously flip a switch to light up either a thumbs-up green light, thumbs-down red light, or wait list white light. Any applicant with more than a total of two reject and/or wait-list votes was automatically denied.
Because we had to get through about 300 applications in each two-hour committee session, we developed shortcuts.
You could look down at the names of four or five kids from one school who were terribly smart but not exceptional and say, “Reject the entire high school”; sometimes you could go further and say, “Reject the page,” and send 20 kids on a single page of computer paper packing; or, most famously, “Reject the state,” when it came to sparsely populated places like North Dakota or Wyoming.
Deciding which 14 percent of the applicants would get the golden ticket was really tough work. Once the children of alumni, recruited athletes, underrepresented minorities or regions and students interested in underenrolled majors were considered, there wasn’t much room for your generic genius. (By today’s standards, 14 percent doesn’t seem so brutal. In 2014, Yale got nearly 31,000 applicants and accepted a mere 6.3 percent of them.)
Fingerprints of privilege
The great majority of students we admitted were truly brilliant and had busted their tails to get there. But the fingerprints of privilege were still present. You had to look a little harder to see them and resolve not to let them unfairly influence you.
It was immediately obvious that kids from elite feeder schools had been coached for years on their interviews, essays, and every conceivable form of standardized testing. Many of their college counselors had worked in elite admissions offices; their tutors had Ph.D.s. They knew prominent alums who would write recommendations on thick, creamy bond paper.
The letters arrived daily from white-shoe law firms, governors’ mansions, and — in yet another shock to my blue-collar brain — vacation homes with proper names on engraved stationery: “The Manse, Little Compton, Rhode Island” or “Coral House, Hamilton, Bermuda.”
As I tried to sort out fair from foul, Suzie, a perennial champion of the underdog, gave me advice I will never forget: “It’s very easy to throw the prize at the kids who finish the race first, but always look at the incline they faced. That will tell you much more.”
Once the more clear-cut cases had been decided, things got fuzzy, political, and sometimes unfair. It wasn’t news to me that the process wasn’t entirely meritocratic. It wasn’t news to me that people were willing to use any and every angle to game the process.
But it was a revelation about exactly what forms those advantages would take and how they were displayed: sometimes furtively, sometimes brazenly.
Old and new
One trip took me to an overstuffed wing chair in the august lounge of the Yale Club of New York. The school’s motto, “Lux et Veritas,” was stitched into the carpet, embossed on my coaster, and emblazoned on the jacket of the old waiter who had grudgingly brought me iced tea.
I was waiting for Hal Buckley and Francis Alcock, the two Old Blues who headed the local volunteer alumni group that conducted the alumni interviews required of all applicants. I had been forewarned by the dean of admissions that the New York group was chafing at the recent difficulty many of the Manhattan prep schools had had in getting students accepted to Yale, many of them children of alumni. Most of the schools had been feeders to Yale for nearly a century; one even predated the university’s founding in 1701 by 70 years.
I had talked to them by phone but had never met them in person.
Retired Wall Streeters, they were both old, smart, white and pedigreed. With matching sets of wiry gray eyebrows, they could have been twins. We exchanged some initial pleasantries, and then I braced myself for the onslaught.
“We used to hold our receptions for admitted students here, but your Admissions Office says it’s too stuffy and we’d scare off kids who aren’t from typical Yale backgrounds. Have you ever heard such twaddle in your life?” said Hal, the crankier of the two.
I scanned the room — a gorgeous mausoleum, majestic but imposing as hell, filled with mean-looking old men who appeared ready to lower their Wall Street Journals and scream, “Get off my lawn!” in raspy unison.
“Why, it’s such a striking space. Who wouldn’t like it here?” I was trying to get on their good side.
“I just hope we have a better record in getting some kids in, because last year was, quite frankly, a debacle. A travesty, really,” said Hal.
“I assure you I’ll do my best to advocate for New York,” I said with conviction, at the same time trying to suppress the images in my head of Statler and Waldorf, the pair of grumpy-old-men Muppets in the balcony.
Francis, who was somewhat friendlier, added, “We have a great crop of kids from Manhattan this year. Let’s see. We’ve already discussed that Westinghouse Science Competition finalist from Stuyvesant, the Latvian fencer from the Trinity School, and the daughter of the dean at Columbia Law School whose father is a close friend of the president of the university.”
‘Once the children of alumni, recruited athletes, underrepresented minorities or regions and students interested in underenrolled majors were considered, there wasn’t much room for your generic genius.’
– Ed Boland
“Yes, I saw your write-ups on all of them in the office. Very thorough. Thank you.”
Francis leaned in and peered at me over the tops of his tortoiseshell glasses. “Over the weekend, we interviewed an extraordinary young woman from Miss Bartlett’s School. She has real Yale polish. Great intellectual curiosity.”
I checked the rumblings of a groan in my throat.
He continued. “But she lives in the South Bronx. From a very poor Puerto Rican family. Raised by a single, unemployed mother with three other children. She would be the first in her family to college.
“Her name is” — here he slowed down as if he were ordering a difficult-to-pronounce dish in a foreign restaurant — “E-mman-u-el-a Gut-i-err-ez.” It was sweet how respectful of her name he was trying to be.
“Really?” I perked up. I knew from my experience at Fordham how rare a profile like hers was.
I realized that I had judged these guys wrong. They weren’t just trying to safeguard spots for the kids of their alumni buddies.
They ran through some more names, handed over a new stack of interview reports, and slapped me on the back as I got in the elevator.
Francis smiled. “Good luck in committee, Ed. Keep your shirts starched and your powder dry.”
“And get our kids in,” I heard from Hal as the door clanked shut.
A hard miss
I returned to New Haven a few days later and pulled Emmanuela’s application out of a teetering pile. Her grades were strong and her Latin teacher had written a glowing recommendation, but she wasn’t at the very top of her class. She was a first-rate debater, though, and had founded the school’s Afro-Latina Alliance.
When I presented her in committee, there was a long debate about her merits and careful consideration of the dozen or so other applicants from her school, each of whom could likely excel at Yale.
In the end, Emmanuela was muscled out of the running by some superstars in her class and put on the wait list. The alums were furious. I got a testy voice mail from Hal the day after the decision letters went out. “For Pete’s sake, your office is sending us mixed messages. You tell us to find gems like Emmanuela with atypical backgrounds, but then you don’t accept them. What gives?”
Years later, I learned that Emmanuela graduated from Columbia, where she did impressive work organizing Harlem tenants against a local slumlord.
After graduation, she wanted to improve the lot of low-wage earners like her mother, and she became a widely respected union organizer and leader for health-care workers. In 2013, she ran for lieutenant governor of New Jersey on the Democratic ticket. We had missed a true gem.
Excerpted from “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School” by Ed Boland, out this week from Grand Central Publishing.
Know the secret? Ifeoma White-Thorpe does! She pulled off an impressive sweep….accepted into all eight Ivies and Stanford as well. Here is a profile from GMA/ABC on this New Jersey student who has a tough decision to make:
Ifeoma White-Thorpe, 17, a senior at Morris Hills High School in Rockaway, received acceptance letters from all eight Ivy League schools — Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. She was also accepted to Stanford University.
“I was shaking, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’ like this might be eight out of eight and I clicked it and it said ‘Congratulations’ and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness…'” Ifeoma told WABC-TV.
Principal Todd Toriello told ABC News that Ifeoma has been a student leader throughout her four years at Morris Hills High.
“She understands the importance of giving back to her school service and currently serves the student body as the student government association president,” Toriello said. “As a senior, she’s challenged herself in rigorous course work. … In my relationship with her, she has always been a respectful individual and we are just so proud of her and her accomplishments.
“Whatever school she decides to go to, she will continue on doing great things and will leave her mark on this world and make it a better place,” he added.
Ifeoma’s mother, Pat White-Thorpe, told ABC News that she was not surprised by her daughter’s feat.
“She has always been a hardworking girl,” White-Thorpe said. “Last month, she was one of the 2017 Coca-Cola Scholars and that is one of 86,000 students in the United States. They choose 150 students and she was one of them.
“As a little girl, she was a great writer,” she added. “I remember when she was in kindergarten. She spoke on behalf on behalf of the kindergarten class and it blew our minds away.”
In 2015, Ifeoma was named a winner of the national Selma Speech and Essay Contest.
Ifeoma spends her free time doing community service volunteering at a food bank, a homeless shelter and for the American Heart Association, White-Thorpe said.
Now that she has plenty of choices, Ifeoma must decide which school she will attend.
Ifeoma wants to study biology and hopes to become a cardiologist, her mother said.
“I am a legacy”…that has a nice ring to it, but what does that really get you? Well, it doesn’t hurt, but how much it helps may depend? Ishan Puri, in the Huffington Post Article below, takes on this question in a data-driven fashion:
Legacy is a controversial term in college admissions. If your family went to the university, legacy can help you in the admissions process at some universities. But often we get questions about how much it helps, what legacy is defined as, and how you can maximize your chances given legacy. In this article, we will go over these questions using data that we have extracted at Synocate over the past 6 years.
What is Legacy?
Most people define legacy in college admissions as having a family relation who attended the university in the past in the most flexible sense. In practical terms, the strongest legacy connection are your parents and grandparents. Those outside of the immediate family like cousins and uncles can be considered legacy and should be listed on the application. But understand that these relations are not as strong as direct family connections.
Legacy proves to colleges that you have a certain interest in the school and that you have a familiarity with the culture and value system. It also proves that your family is probably more likely to commit funds to the university. Both of these statistically help universities increase their yield rate and their financial metrics on average.
How Much Does Legacy Help?
There is a lot of debate around how much legacy helps in the college admissions process. Instead of jumping head first into this debate, we will use data we have uncovered about preferences. We have found that colleges rank legacy on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being the most important.
Using a quick sort on tools.synocate.com, you can see that schools like Notre Dame, Carnegie Mellon, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill mark Legacy as a 3. Among the Top 50 universities, not one has marked it as very important. Only 3 mark it is as important.
You can create a free account there to sort and filter by college in the “Data” tab.
About 40% of colleges in the Top 50 mark legacy as considered but not important and these include several of the Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Princeton.
To understand how specific colleges think about legacy, please visit our free site at tools.synocate.com under the “Data” tab to see that.
What Can I Do if I Do Not Have Legacy or if I Do?
If you do not have legacy at any schools do not worry. Many students who get into the Top 50 schools do not have legacy. In fact, more than half of the students we help at Synocate do not have legacy and they have received acceptances from all of the Top 50 universities.
On our website tools.synocate.com you can see in the “Data” tab that we have 18 variables across the Top 50 schools. Other variables like GPA and SAT are actually weighted as very important by the majority of universities and you should be focusing on these in any case.
If you do have legacy, include schools who consider legacy but also make sure that you are competitive on the other 17 metrics that they consider in the college admissions process.
You can see more reports on a school-by-school basis for free on our website at http://www.synocate.com/profiles.