Study reveals the importance of family in college admission

At WU, 38% of legacies were admitted to the University in 2010

| Staff Reporter

According to a recent study, institutions of higher education might value legacies more than previously thought.

Legacies might even be the deciding factor in an increasingly competitive college admissions world.

The study conducted by Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, reported that applicants with a family member who attended a highly selective college are twice as likely to be admitted as their equally qualified non-legacy counterparts.

For what Hurwitz terms “primary legacy candidates”—applicants with at least one parent who attended the college as an undergraduate—the probability of admission is seven times as likely as non-legacy applicants.

Hurwitz cannot disclose whether Washington University was one of the 30 highly selective institutions that provided him with data. But according to the Office of Undergraduate admissions, the legacy trend is observable at Washington University.

“For as long as I can remember, the Admissions Office has tried to continue family relationships whenever possible,” said Julie Shimabukuro, director of undergraduate admissions. “In the fall 2010 freshman class, approximately 5 percent of admitted students had one or more parent graduate from the University.”

According to Shimabukuro, applicants who have at least one Wash. U. graduate as a parent are admitted to the University at a higher rate than others. For example, last fall, the difference in probability of admission between non-legacy and legacy applicants was approximately 21 to 38 percent.

But according to Shimabukuro, this discrepancy may be due to the difference in admission rates between early decision and regular decision admission rounds. Nearly half of enrolling legacies were admitted in the early decision round.

“Because our admit rate in the early decision round is usually higher than in the regular round for all applicants, not just legacies, one would expect to see a higher admit rate overall [for legacy applicants],” Shimabukuro said.

Junior Anna-Marie Muchen thinks the “legacy factor” is fine.

“When it comes to two equally qualified applicants, colleges need to use something to decide between them,” Muchen said. “Even though legacies may have a higher chance of getting in, colleges are still going to admit those that they feel are a fit for the school.”

According to Hurwitz, the admittance rate for legacy students at the schools he sampled does not greatly decrease other students’ odds of acceptance. This is due in part to the large applicant pool at the sampled schools.

“My sense is that the percentage [of legacy advantage over non-legacy] has been dropping over the years, as the applications have risen,” Shimabukuro said. “As you can imagine, it has been difficult to admit all of the students who would like to attend Washington University, even those who have a family relationship.”