The term “legacy” linked to higher education admissions has a explanation that cannot be found in basic dictionaries. The word means the offspring of a past graduate student, an alumnus or alumna. It came from its initial meaning of inheritance. Students of parents who have graduated from America’s most prestigious universities have a great advantage when they apply to the university. These students are known as legacies and are accepted in some universities at two times the rate of other students. Standard SAT scores for legacies are often lower than those of their peers. These acknowledgments question the values of admission equality.
Since the very early days of Harvard College, higher education institutions endorsed legacies. These generational bonds are depicted in Henry Adams’s (1907) autobiography, where he himself graduated from Harvard in 1858.
For generation after generation, Adamses and Brookses and Boylstons and Gorhams had gone to Harvard College, and although none of them, as far as known, had ever done any good there, or thought himself the better for it, custom, social ties, convenience, and, above all, economy, kept each generation on the track. (1907, p. 55)
In the period before the increase in college admissions “all alumni children who demonstrate a minimum level of ability were admitted” to American colleges and universities (Duffy and Goldberg, 1998, p. 47). No one took notice of this policy until it was exposed early 1900s, when personals in admissions amplified the number and quality of candidates applying to prestigious institutes. Many of these candidates were Jewish students with high qualifications. By the 1920s some of the most respected universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton officially edited their admission guidelines that gave legacies the priority of enrollment in order to please their parents and to keep the number of Jewish students to a minimum.
Later in the 1900s, the number of college-age students shot up at...