Legacy in college admissions
I was just wondering what exactly counts as legacy in college admissions. If I had a cousin or grandparent that went to a school would that count as legacy? Or does it have to be a closer relative like a parent or sibling? Would having a cousin at a top school even help me? Thanks.
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Parents are considered primary legacies, and offer the biggest admissions boost in general. Any other relatives are considered secondary legacies, including grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, etc. You could get a small boost from a secondary legacy, but it really depends on the school policy, like @CameronBameron said (especially as some schools don't even consider legacies). The "further removed" the relative, the less of an impact they will make, but the more influential they are in the school, the more of a difference it will make.
Each college has its own legacy policy. Some elite colleges like USC consider parents, siblings, and grandparents as Scions (USC's label) for legacy preferential treatment while Harvard only considers parents of Harvard College (undergrad), and others like MIT and CalTech have a non-existent legacy policy. There if both parents attended MIT, they wouldn't give the applicant preferential treatment. Legacy admissions typically can give a candidate up to a 33% acceptance rate at elite college versus published rates. That's a big boost when you consider the average Ivy acceptance rate is like 7% or so. Legacy is not the same as a development candidate, recruited athlete or Dean's list candidates which some of the other respondents have mistakenly claimed. A development candidate would be someone like Dr.Dre's daughter who benefited from her dad giving $70MM to USC to fund a building, or someone like the Wexler family who gave Harvard millions of dollars for multiple years for their 4 kids, or a special side door candidate whose parents agreed to fund a Departmental Chair for $3 million dollars through their connections with the colleges development committee. While many alumni do give generously to their alma maters, it's not typical for them to donate millions unless they are very successful. At the top 30 elite colleges, a typical alumni graduate donates between 15,000 and 30,000 over a period of 10 years. (The Harvard number is like 26,000 so 2,600 annually) which hardly qualifies as a development candidate. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, and more distant relatives do not factor into 99% of Legacy admissions unless that Cousin, Aunt, or Uncle is also a 7-8 figure donor to the school.
Collegevine actually has their own article that describes legacy admissions.
So there are different extents the most common is a parent who attended. The next is siblings grandparents who have also attended also includes faculty’s children. Again this depends on the school but this a great rule of thumb and the “2nd tier“ so to speak still likely get a boost but definitely not as much as the “1st tier”.
Hope this helps and comment if you need clarification.
While what each school considers to be "legacy" is different, it usually has to be a parent who went to that school for their "legacy" status to actually increase your admissions chances. Schools don't usually go around saying what they consider legacy and how much of an impact it has on admissions, so this question is a little harder to answer. Your best bet would probably to email the specific college's admissions counselors and ask about it, but I don't believe having a cousin who went to the school would impact whether you get in or not.
Yes, a legacy can benefit you, but not in the way that it will give someone under-qualified for the school an automatic admission. Legacy only significant benefits you if you/your family would severely boost the reputation of the school if they admitted you, or if admitting you (versus not) would convince your family to donate to the school. Secondary legacies also count but not as much.