NYT calls for an end to legacy college admissions

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/09/boolah-moolah-boolah.html


I went to B.U. on almost a full-ride scholarship back in 2000 (they charged the riches full price of $30k/yr to subsidize us somewhat-intelligent poors).

$18k of debt when I got out.

I desperately want legacy college admissions to end since I have no intention of paying $60k/yr for my kiddos to go to college. Here in NE, UMass is a perfectly good alternative, and I’ve interviewed more college recruits from that system who put “legacy” kids to shame when it comes to technical ability.


But, but, but - how will they build dynasties, and keep out the riff-raff?

/s tag, just in case.


How deeply ingrained in the process are legacy admissions? Like, is there an actual box on the application form for “Check here if your ancestors attended this school”? Is it a matter of wealthy donors who can work their way up the phone chain and ask for special favors? Or is it just a frequent topic for tiresome essays about “Please write 1,000 words about why you want to attend this college”?

I suppose some would argue that knowing how to leverage whatever connections to which you might have access is an important life skill. I also suppose everyone would love to do away with tiresome admission essays one way or another.

(ETA: This is all kind of addressed in the article, but now that someone’s replied I guess there’s no point in deleting this. Oops.)

How about ending the practice of admitting politicians’ unqualified kids?

Its a naked quid-pro-quo system of bribing public officials.


This is good, of course, but I’m afraid it will only take an official policy and make it an unofficial policy. Oliver Moneybags IV with a 25 on his ACT will still get into Harvard when daddy calls the right dean.

A better option is to keep legacy admissions, but put a Barry Bonds-style asterisk on their diploma and make it a federal felony to fail to disclose legacy admission status to any potential employers.


All of the above! When I applied for college in 1990, there was absolutely a question that said “Provide the names and relationship to Applicant of any relatives who attended ____ College.” Plus yes, wealthy donors are known by name at the Development Office, and the Development folks can absolutely shoot a note over to Admissions saying “Please flag [Applicant]'s file for a legacy/development boost, thanks.”

I hadn’t considered the essay angle you mention, but I’m sure it happens–I can totally see a kid saying “I have wanted to attend University of Football ever since my dad started taking me to games when I was 8. Now we buy season tickets every year and it’s brought us closer together. My dad is my personal hero and says that attending University of Football was the best choice he ever made.”


Ah, but that just signals to the hiring manager at Goldman Sachs that this kid (and their family) is literally worth knowing.


You can’t win em all

Let me take a controversial position here and state that colleges and universities absolutely should accept otherwise unqualified students if their parents donate a building, or if they’re legacies, or any other nepotistic reason.

That is, as long as the rest of the world judges the quality of all the graduates of their institution based on the fact that they are selling unearned degrees to some of them. I am already seeing reduced respect for Harvard degrees due to this particular reason.

There are other avenues, too. Accreditation organizations could delist them, saying “graduates from school X are unqualified, because it’s become yet another expensive degree mill.”

Seems like a suitably Keynesian solution.


I might ask, why stop there? It seems some of those graduates only got in because they were really good at sportsball. Should an employer hesitate before hiring a particular graduate if there’s a possibility that the degree was a product of cardiovascular conditioning and not necessarily an indication of suitability as an office drone?



If college were a free and fully public institution, there would be no incentive for a college to admit legacy students of lesser merit.

This should also apply to sports scholarships. School sports should just be a way for students to stay fit, meet friends and have fun. Institutions of higher learning should not admit students just for the sake of sports. The college sports industry is a huge waste.


Bad example, since he became a U.S. Senator (ok, maybe a good example after all).


Oh, don’t worry so much- that’s what we’ve got unpaid internships and nepotism for. And anyway, it’s about time we restricted these perks to those of us generous enough to donate the occasional building to the old Alma Mater.

See, the system of meritocracy Nomenklantura with American characteristics is safe after all.


The fallacy here is the presumption that a legacy admission to Harvard or Yale has anything to do with the objective of getting a world-class education. What it does is admit you to a very exclusive finishing academy for the scions of the Ruling Class, where you will hang out and connect with other legacy admits (or occasionally invitees from similarly lofty backgrounds) . Those circles are closed to plebes who had to get scholarships or even go to classes.

Getting rid of legacy admissions won’t (as others have pointed out) keep the Ivys from having a stacked admission system. In fact, it’s already stacked by the already-discussed requirement to have expensive SAT coaching, application advisors, and candy on your personal history such as summers abroad doing facially virtuous things with others whose families can afford summers abroad looking down on poor people in “shithole countries.” Also, of course, the highly selective secondary schools with their admission-extra-points polo, yacht racing, etc. teams


I was one of those poors with extremely high test scores and grades, and the parents I had at the time thought it would make them look good if I went to an Ivy League. I looked into it, and realized that even with a full scholarship, I was never going to fit in, and would not be able to keep up with the socializing that, as you say, is a significant part of the process there. I’ve never regretted that decision. Even if you do get to be one of the tokens, that’s all you are, unless you’re the kind of person to quickly pick up on how to fit in to that crowd (and how to get them to pay for it, because that’s another place where it all falls apart for poor scholarship kids…how do you join them at their ski chalet for winter break, etc.).

I’d been the scholarship kid in grade school, and so I could recognize that this was just a higher-level version of what I’d already experienced. The deck is stacked against you if you’re not already on top.


As long as there are Dads and Moms who know the people they went to college with, and pay any amount of money for tuition, there will be patronage on some level.

Frats and sororities have a hand in this, as well.

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