In an age where the idea of meritocracy reigns, many students are forced to wonder where legacy fits into the mix.
To be sure, legacy does play a factor in admissions at Georgetown. The admittance rate for legacies is between 30-35 percent, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon, about 10 percentage points higher than the overall acceptance rate. Legacy applications are automatically given a second look in the admissions process, and some are given more consideration than others depending on the alumnus’ level of involvement after graduation from Georgetown, whether that be through donations, service on the Alumni Association or admissions interviews.
A number of Georgetown students feel that legacy applicants, even if severely less qualified than a regular applicant, will have a better chance of receiving acceptance letters than those without family ties.
“I’ve heard that at most schools, including Georgetown, you can get special attention in the admissions process if one or both of your parents attended the university,” Jessica Rappaport (SFS ’08) said.
And this conception is not entirely wrong. Accepted legacies’ average SAT scores hovered around 1375 (before the test was changed from a 1600-point scale last year), while the score for other accepted students is on average nearly 50 points higher. Deacon also said that legacies lag somewhat behind in terms of mean grade point average.
But Deacon characterized legacy status as more of a “tip factor” – it may tip the scale slightly in the applicant’s favor in the same way that a varsity athlete or even a first-generation college student may. He added that, despite the statistical differences, Georgetown only admits legacy students who are qualified to attend.
“Obviously, there’s no benefit to having a kid who can’t handle Georgetown,” Deacon said.
Deacon also said he feels it is appropriate to have a small percentage of legacy students enrolled at the university. At Georgetown, only about 10 percent of each class is composed of legacy students. At Harvard University, this number is approximately 12-15 percent, and even at the University of Pennsylvania, which gives priority to legacy students who apply early decision, the percentage is less than 14 percent.
At Notre Dame, however, approximately 25 percent of the class is a legacy.
“That skews the opportunity significantly,” Deacon said. “[Georgetown] tries to do this reasonably. Balancing it out is a good way to put it.”
In addition, admitted legacy applicants tend to have a higher yield rate than other applicants. Of the approximately 16,000 students who applied for admission to Georgetown this year, around 700 of them were legacies. Of the legacies who were accepted, 65-70 percent opted to go to Georgetown, which is significantly higher than the regular admit yield of 40-45 percent.
Deacon said that limited legacy admissions helps the university to thrive because the acceptance of legacy students leads to contributions to programs that often support financial aid initiatives.
“People who are close to the community are more likely to give money,” he said.
Duke University’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said that, in fact, the whole purpose of college admissions is not necessarily to create a pure meritocracy of the absolute best students by test score or GPA, but to “create a community” of people that will diversify, improve and add to university life.
Deacon said that this idea is especially true on the Hilltop.
“Having a vibrant group of alumni makes sense,” he said. “[Legacy] is a piece of that puzzle that is part of the mix.”
Ashley Williams (SFS ’10) agreed with the financial incentives to admitting legacies, but said that it should not be weighted too heavily.
“I don’t see a problem if the admissions standards are the same,” Williams said. “It’s tradition, and some people want that.”