Revisiting College Admissions: The Controversy Surrounding Legacy Preferences and Calls for Equal Opportunities

Revisiting College Admissions: The Controversy Surrounding Legacy Preferences and Calls for Equal Opportunities

Revisiting College Admissions: The Controversy Surrounding Legacy Preferences and Calls for Equal Opportunities


The landscape of college admissions is undergoing a significant shift as legacy preferences, the practice of granting preferential treatment to children of alumni, come under renewed scrutiny. With the recent Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action, questions arise about the fairness and equity of legacy admissions. This article explores the ongoing debate surrounding legacy preferences, examines the impact of the Supreme Court ruling, and discusses potential solutions to create a more inclusive and equitable higher education system.

The Legacy Preference Debate

Legacy preferences have long been a subject of contention within college admissions. Advocates argue that these policies foster a sense of tradition and community within universities, and they assert that alumni connections can bring valuable resources and support to institutions. However, critics contend that legacy preferences perpetuate socioeconomic disparities and hinder opportunities for underrepresented communities. They argue that these policies disproportionately benefit privileged and predominantly white applicants, further exacerbating existing inequalities in higher education.

Revisiting College Admissions: The Controversy Surrounding Legacy Preferences and Calls for Equal Opportunities
© 2016 Eric Haynes

President Biden and Bipartisan Calls for Change

Following the Supreme Court ruling, President Joe Biden and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for a reassessment of legacy admissions. President Biden suggests that legacy preferences expand privilege rather than promote equal opportunity and diversity. This sentiment has garnered bipartisan support, highlighting a growing consensus that changes are needed to ensure a fair and inclusive college admissions process.

The Case for Merit-Based Admissions

Opponents of legacy preferences advocate for a merit-based admissions system that focuses on individual achievements and qualifications rather than family connections. They argue that such an approach would level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for all applicants. Examples from other countries, like the United Kingdom, where universities have shifted away from legacy preferences and emphasize academic merit, are often cited as potential models for reform. However, proponents of legacy admissions caution against disregarding the potential benefits of alumni networks, including increased philanthropy and support for institutions.

Revisiting College Admissions: The Controversy Surrounding Legacy Preferences and Calls for Equal Opportunities

Challenges and Potential Solutions

The reform of legacy admissions poses challenges for universities as they seek to balance tradition, financial stability, and equity. Institutions must carefully navigate the transition to ensure that they can maintain strong relationships with their alumni while promoting a more inclusive admissions process. Some universities have already taken steps towards change by reducing the weight of legacy status in admissions decisions. Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania are among the institutions that have implemented measures to address this issue. These initial actions demonstrate a growing recognition of the need for reform and a commitment to creating a more equitable higher education system.


The debate surrounding legacy preferences in college admissions has gained momentum in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action. Calls for change from President Biden and bipartisan support in Congress indicate a growing consensus to reevaluate legacy admissions. As colleges and universities grapple with the challenges of reform, they must strive to strike a balance between tradition and equity, shaping a higher education system that provides equal opportunities for all deserving students. By doing so, they can redefine fairness in college admissions and foster a more inclusive and diverse academic community.

Question: How do legacy preferences affect the college admissions process?

Answer: Legacy preferences in college admissions can have a significant impact on the overall process. Applicants with family ties to alumni of a particular institution often receive preferential treatment, which can include relaxed admissions criteria, increased chances of acceptance, or additional considerations during the application review. This advantage creates a potential hurdle for other qualified candidates who do not have legacy status, leading to concerns about fairness and equal opportunity in the admissions process.

Question: What are the arguments in favor of legacy preferences?

Answer: Proponents of legacy preferences argue that they play a crucial role in fostering a sense of tradition, continuity, and community within universities. They believe that maintaining strong connections with alumni through legacy admissions can lead to increased philanthropy, support, and engagement with the institution. Advocates also assert that legacy preferences can contribute to a stronger alumni network, providing valuable resources and networking opportunities for current students and graduates alike.

Question: What are the criticisms against legacy preferences?

Answer: Critics of legacy preferences raise several concerns. They argue that these preferences perpetuate socioeconomic disparities and hinder the advancement of underrepresented communities in higher education. Legacy admissions are often seen as benefiting predominantly white and affluent students, which further reinforces existing inequalities in the admissions process. Critics contend that the practice undermines the principles of fairness and meritocracy, as it grants advantages based on family connections rather than individual achievements or qualifications. The ongoing debate focuses on the need to create a more equitable college admissions system that provides equal opportunities for all deserving applicants.

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