The Power of Legacy

In the whirlwind of a global pandemic, college admissions season is slowly coming to a close and seniors are ecstatically committing to some level of higher education. It’s a nerve-wracking yet exciting time for all. In an era where standardized testing has become the sole measure of intelligence and recruiters expect students to be good at...well, almost anything, it’s difficult to see what makes the difference between students’ acceptance rates. While colleges love to admit to terms of meritocracy and egalitarianism in regards to admissions, this so-called facade is a bit obstructed when taking legacy applicants into account: those who have familial ties to an institution. It’s said that having legacy can double or quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective school (The Atlantic). Of course, not every school treats legacy the same way and it’s important to note just how distinct this privilege is treated across the nation.

Let’s start off with the Ivy Leagues. If you haven’t already guessed, Harvard is the epitome of legacy admissions. The Class of 2022 alone reports 36% of its students have a relative that previously attended the university, states CollegeTransitions. There’s a bit of ambiguity when referring to “relative” though. I have an uncle who did his masters at Carnegie Mellon, does this mean my chances of getting into Carnegie are doubled? Not necessarily. What this is referring to is primary vs. secondary legacy—yes, there are types. Having a loose connection such as an aunt, or even a sibling, qualifies you as being a “secondary legacy” and can be slightly helpful in the admissions process. This differs from a direct parental connection, in which you are a “primary legacy”, which can be a major boost to the admissions process. Nonetheless, the essence of the legacy advantage is vehement in elite college campuses: The University of Pennsylvania and Brown University admit upwards of 33% of legacies, more than double their overall admit rate, while Princeton almost sextupled its rate. Check out the video below to watch even more traits of legacy in elite admissions:

 

But why are we talking about this now? Legacy has been here for ages and there have already been numerous pieces on its equity. Well, for the high school Class of 2021, almost all colleges have made the SATs and tests alike optional due to the Coronavirus outbreak. This is great when we talk about the legitimacy of such tests measuring an individual’s “intelligence”, but may not be so when deciding who to admit for what college. Without a universal score to compare, recruiters will ultimately have to fall back on legacy more than ever, resulting in a possible tie-breaking strategy.

Legacy isn’t just exclusive to the west though. Straying a little from college admissions, if you’re familiar with Bollywood cinema, you may know there is a great deal of nepotism present. A looming majority of actors/actresses come from prestigious, entertainment-based families—to the point at which it’s extremely difficult to make it big without a hefty title behind your name. This is not to discredit people’s acting as many do prove their talents, but it is nowhere near fair to give the “Best Male Debut” award to the mediocre son of an actor rather than the true breakout star of the year. Ring a bell? 

Acclaimed actress, Kangana Ranaut, faced backlash after calling upon the topic on a talk show and accusing the host (a famed director and producer) of cultivating the nepotism culture. Below is her answer to the current nepotism standings in Bollywood:

Recently, another controversy came up when newcomer, Ananya Panday, revealed that, while her dad was a major star, he “has never been on Koffee with Karan [talk show] and so she still had to struggle” etc. This tone-deaf esque comment led to another newcomer, Siddhant Chaturvedi, revealing the problem with her statement as she technically didn’t face the same issues in trying to make it into the film industry. Watch the video below to find the summary.

While the entertainment industry and college admissions are two extremely distinct areas of discussion, it’s clear to see the overlapping topic they contain: privilege. We see this happen in politics as well—look at George Bush and George H.W. Bush, or John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Despite conflicting traits, the greatest factor in social mobility is social class. 

There is some credit to parental connection though, don’t get me wrong. You’re possibly more exposed to the qualifications and advantages needed to excel and, as a result, may perform better than others...but that isn’t necessarily a guarantee.

At the end of the day, for what it’s worth, it doesn’t hurt to break the status quo.