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Legacy status remains a factor in admissions

An applicant's legacy status has gone from being an important factor in admissions to a factor that is given some consideration over the past decade, according to the University’s Common Data Set.

All eight Ivy League universities now indicate in their Common Data Sets that legacy status is a factor that is considered during the admission process.

“Every year we review our process. Every year we look carefully at how we make decisions,” Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said. “What we try to do every year is balance out what we’re looking at, and I think that we have always valued our alumni ties.”


The change in consideration of legacy status as a deciding factor in the admission process came in fall 2004, which was a time when the University was receiving a great degree of criticism about admitting children of alumni, Rapelye noted.

“Some of [the criticism] was even coming from the Congress and government officials,” Rapelye said. “However, I don’t think that influenced our decisions.”

According to the Princeton Profiles, the children and step-children of University undergraduate and graduate alumni have constituted between 10 and 15 percent of the enrolled classes at the University since the Class of 2000.

In this time period, Yale has admitted between 8 and 13 percent legacy students, Harvard between 12 and 16, Dartmouth between 8 and 14 and Cornell between 14 and 17.

The University of Pennsylvania has 13 percent legacy admits in the Class of 2018. Columbia and Brown did not release these percentages in their admission announcements and class profiles.

The acceptance rate for alumni children and step-children has wavered without a specific trend between 35 and 42 percent since the Class of 2000, with the Class of 2018 hitting a record low of 30.8 percent, according to the Princeton Profiles.


“We have no quotas for any group,” Rapelye said. "There’s no formula for what we do."

Harvard’s legacy acceptance rate has wavered around 30 percent, Yale’s between 20 and 25 percent, and Brown does not keep track of the data. Cornell, Penn, Dartmouth and Columbia University did not release this data.

Archana Pradhan Lackey ’92, a parent of a student in the Class of 2018, said that it shouldn’t matter whether a student's parents attended the University if the student deserves an acceptance.

“At the same time, you want some level of [consideration of alumni ties] there because there is this sense of generational loyalty that the University as a whole wants to cultivate,” Lackey said. “But you know, you can’t have a legacy there without having somebody there who can make a difference just in the same way somebody else can.”

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Sherry Romanzi ’18, a fourth generation student, said that being a legacy student has not affected her personally or socially because a lot of people at the University do not even know which students are legacies.

She added that she felt there was a stigma to being a legacy student at the University.

“Every now and again, you’ll hear someone in passing in the dining hall, you know, saying, ‘Oh yeah, those are rich kids that just get in because like their family donated a lot of money and blah, blah, blah,’ ” she said. “I think [a family history at the University] is something to really be celebrated and not to be hidden, and not be ashamed of, and not to be bragged about, obviously, but it’s something to be honored."

Lackey said she thinks it is hard to be a legacy student because people think that the legacy students received some special dispensation because of the legacy.

Rapelye said that the children of University graduates genuinely tend to be good students.

“They have had the fortune of going to good schools,” Rapelye said. “They have had opportunities that they’ve taken advantage of and are very strong applicants in our pool.”

Rapelye said undergraduate and graduate alumni ties were given equal weight. She added that other familial relationships, such as that of University grandparents and siblings, are also noted but not added to the statistics in the Princeton Profiles.

“We are aware of a sibling on campus or a sibling who has gone to Princeton,” Rapelye said. “But the sibling who is applying needs to be able to stand on their own.”

Lackey said that her bond to the University has become stronger since she has become a Princeton parent because she has gotten to know the University on a new basis from a modern and different-career perspective.

Lackey added that it was extremely challenging to not be biased towards the University as a choice for her daughter.

“It’s very hard not to be an Orange and Black parent,” Lackey said. “From a very young age, you think ‘Of course that’s where my child is going to go,’ you know, not realizing, I think, how incredibly more competitive it’s become to get in."

Lackey said she realized how competitive University admissions were when she went to an admissions event at which Rapelye said she could fill five classes over with the applicants and still be happy with the quality of the classes.

Rapelye said the admissions policy for children of alumni is reviewed every year and is unlikely to change next year.

“We’ve tried to be very straightforward about the fact that we value the children of our alumni,” Rapelye said. “These students are strong students.”