Bryan Walsh, a Princeton alum, has been interviewing Princeton applicants who live near him for years now, sending his recommendations to the university. And in a piece for Medium, he lays out "the dirty secret of elite college admissions": At a time when universities are accepting a smaller and smaller percentage of applicants, they are still accepting a huge share of so-called "legacy" applicants. Consider this: When Walsh applied to Princeton in 1997, the university accepted 12.6% of applicants; last year, it accepted 5.5%. But if one of your parents went to Princeton, making you a legacy, you were four times likelier than a non-legacy applicant to be accepted. That's the case elsewhere, too: Harvard accepted 4.6% of applicants last year, but between 2010 and 2015, 33.6% of legacy applicants made the cut.
Why? It's simple: money. Alumni donate millions to elite universities, which is how they can build up endowments worth as much as Harvard's $39.2 billion. The trend of legacy admissions is particularly notable at a time when college admissions are in the spotlight thanks to a case brought by a group of Asian-American applicants who were rejected by Harvard. They claim the university discriminates against Asian applicants by capping the number it will admit, while Harvard says its "holistic" admissions process isn't discriminatory—and is necessary to create a diverse student body. Walsh notes that the case (which is expected to make it to the Supreme Court) has shed a light on admissions, "a process that is undermined by unfairness." Doing away with the legacy benefit would be one way to make the process more fair. See Walsh's full piece for more. (More on the Harvard lawsuit here.)