Legacies a fifth of the Class of 2013

Dec. 2, 2009, 1:19 p.m.

Stanford ranks as one of the most selective four-year universities in the United States and as such, its rigorous admissions process often undergoes heavy scrutiny. As the admission rate decreases year after year, the qualifications distinguishing those students who are admitted from those who are rejected are blurred, and every aspect of the application becomes more important. What role does “legacy” status play in this application?

According to Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw, 18.8 percent of the Class of 2013 had a legacy at Stanford. Legacies at Princeton, by comparison, composed a comparatively lower proportion of the Class of 2013 at only 12.7 percent of the total class.

Stanford does not release the rate of legacy admissions overall. Nevertheless, Director of Admission Shawn Abbott, affirmed, “The majority of legacy applicants who apply for admission are actually not admitted.”

The University Undergraduate Admission Web site defines an applicant as a legacy “if at least one parent or stepparent received an undergraduate and/or graduate degree from Stanford.”

Abbott confirmed this definition. He further emphasized that having a sibling who attended Stanford does not contribute to having a legacy status. Abbott stated, “While we certainly take such information into consideration, we have no special preferences in our admission process for students who have siblings who have attended Stanford.”

Robin Mamlet, Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid from 2000 to 2005, also asserted that a sibling legacy policy did not exist during her stint as Dean.

“There was no official sibling preference,” Mamlet said. “It seemed wrong for birth order to play a role in the admission decisions.”

Although legacy clearly plays a role in admissions, its exact impact on admissions is debatable.

A study in 2004 led by Princeton University sociology Prof. Thomas Espenshade claimed that having a legacy at a university gives an applicant an advantage equivalent to an extra 160 points on the SAT.

Mamlet stressed that having a legacy alone cannot serve as grounds for admission.

“When I was there, for a student who was already high admissible, a legacy connection might have contributed to that person’s admission,” Mamlet said. “It would be rare, however, that legacy alone tipped someone in.”

Kirk Morrow ’11 discussed his own experience with his status as a legacy applicant and supported Mamlet’s claim that a legacy’s contribution to admission is minimal.

“I actually inquired about this while applying,” Morrow said. “I was told that the applications are initially ‘blind’ with regard to legacy.”

As emphasized by Mamlet and Abbott, a legacy does not guarantee admission, and many legacy students who apply understand this policy. Catherine Chong, currently a junior at Scripps College, was not accepted to Stanford even though both of her parents attended Stanford.

“I knew that it couldn’t hurt to put down that I have legacy,” Chong said, “I was in no way expecting it to get me in automatically.”

Both Chong and Morrow, though appreciative of their parents’ status, believed that the legacy status should not play a role in admissions.

“I don’t think that schools should use legacy to determine whether or not a student is accepted,” argued Chong, “I believe that students should be accepted for their qualifications and their potential to thrive in that particular academic environment.”

Howard Wolf, president of the Stanford Alumni Association, presented another perspective regarding the consideration of legacies in admissions.

“The Stanford Alumni Association exists to create lifelong emotional and intellectual connections between the University and its graduates,” Wolf said. “We know that these connections are strengthened when the children of alumni attend the University. We consequently are pleased when the children of our alumni are admitted.”

Mamlet underscored that Undergraduate Admission carefully and meticulously pores through its applications.

“You have a team of dedicated people making the best set of decisions they can on a group of incredibly bright and talented young people, and no one factor can be isolated or identified as the special thing that clinched the deal,” Mamlet said.

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