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From a legacy: End preferential treatment

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My dad went to Stanford, but why should the Admissions Office care?

On the Common Application, Stanford inquires about whether an applicant has a family member(s) who attended or is attending Stanford. Being a legacy guarantees that the applicant receives a second read in the admission process. It is unlikely that this makes any difference in the process – competitive applicants should be able to be spotted after one read – but nonetheless, this guarantee should be eliminated.

By itself, being a legacy to Stanford does not itself make a prospective student any more or less likely to succeed and fit in at Stanford, if admitted. While Stanford alumni may instill the value of hard work and the importance of education in their children, those values must be reflected in the student’s application – not taken for granted by giving legacy applicants preferential treatment. Applicants should be judged on their individual merits through the holistic process.

Critics of this opinion piece will argue that ending legacy considerations in the admission process will hurt the University’s ability to raise money, since most money is raised through alumni connections. This argument is divorced from reality. MIT ended its preferential policy in 2006 and saw virtually no financial consequences.

It is important to note that while legacies are admitted at two to three times the regular admission rate, changing the University’s legacy policy might not make any difference in changing this multiplier. Since we have no information regarding how many legacies attend Stanford, people can only speculate as to how many legacies (if any) get in on the sole basis of being a legacy.

Furthermore, research demonstrates that parental education strongly correlates to their child’s academic success. One reason researchers hypothesize is the importance parents place on academics. We should expect this to be true of Stanford graduates as well given the sense of intellectual vitality cultivated on campus. Additionally, Stanford alumni tend to have higher salaries than the average American. This additional amount of money may give children of alumni more academic opportunities, like attending private schools and achieving higher SAT scores.

Ending preferential treatment is supported in the history of the University and is in the interest of legacies and non-legacies. Originally tuition free and co-ed, Stanford’s legacy as an institution is to open the doors to those coming from all backgrounds. While this proposal to eliminate a guaranteed second read for legacies is mainly symbolic, this will be a step in the right direction to make college more open to people from walks of all life. This decision will also contrast Stanford with other Ivy Leagues, like Harvard, that have higher legacy acceptance rates than Stanford does. Stanford prides itself on being independent and unique from the Ivy League institutions. As Vice Provost Harry Elam amusingly noted at the 2014 Convocation ceremony, “Unburdened by 350 years of Ivy, Stanford isn’t bound by, nor does it cling to outdated traditions…”

For non-legacies, this will level the playing field and make the process appear more legitimate, ending a seemingly aristocratic process. For legacy students, this will put an end to the sometimes present latent animus that they were admitted through no fault of their own. Moreover, legacy students who attend Stanford, but would have been denied if they were not a legacy, will end up worse off. Students matriculate in colleges where they will be a good fit, and if the Admission Office admits someone who did not truly belong at Stanford, that will ultimately ruin the student’s undergraduate experience.

To show that the University values its connection with alumni, Stanford should continue its policy of sending a letter to legacy applicants’ parents a month before the admission decisions are released. (In this letter there is a phone number for alumni to call and information about the admissions process.)

While the 2014-2015 application process is drawing to a conclusion, the Stanford Office of Admissions should strongly consider making next year’s admissions process legacy-blind. It is for the betterment of both legacies and non-legacies, but most importantly, it is consistent with the spirit of Stanford. After Leland Stanford, Junior died, the Stanfords wrote, “the children of California will be our children.” There was no distinction between legacies and non-legacies. The Office of Admissions should realize our founder’s vision and end the distinction.

Contact Matthew Cohen at mcohen18 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Matthew Cohen is an opinions fellow for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Orange County, Matthew is interested in politics and plans to declare a major in political science. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing piano, running, and watching Netflix. Contact him at mcohen18 'at' stanford.edu