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Sibling Legacy: How Does it Impact College Admissions?

Of the students in Harvard University’s Class of 2022, more than 36% were legacy admits as of 2019. 


They’re not the only college that takes into account family members who attended the colleges when reviewing applicant profiles. Legacy students, particularly where parent affiliations are concerned, can give students a leg up in the admissions process.


Legacy usually refers to parents, but what about siblings who attended the school? Can this affiliation affect a student’s admission decision?


What are legacies in college admissions?


Legacy refers to a familial connection in the admissions process. The most common reference applies to the applicant’s parent(s) who attended the school. In some cases, however, the term is extended to other close relatives of the applicant, such as grandparents and siblings who attended the institution.


Legacies are known to gain an edge in the admissions process (we’ll go into detail as to why below). It usually doesn’t give candidates a huge advantage over those who don’t have familial connections to the school but, generally speaking, it does improve their profile to an extent.


Many schools ask about legacy status on their application. The question is listed on the Common Application, which asks about the connection and relationship to the alum, as well as specific details to help schools identify the relative.


According to Inside Higher Ed, 42 percent of admissions directors at private higher education institutions said legacy status plays a role in admissions decisions, while only 6 percent of public institutions said the same.


At some schools, legacy status plays a substantial role in the admissions process. For example, the University of Notre Dame’s admits included 22 percent legacies as of a 2019 Bloomberg report. Meanwhile, in 2020, of the students admitted to Stanford University, 16.3 percent were legacy or had families who donated to the university.

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Why do colleges care about legacies?


A considerable portion of institutions’ endowments comes from alumni donations. By admitting relatives — often the children — of alumni, colleges and universities are reinforcing a bond between the school and the alum, which will help encourage donations.


So, yes, the primary motivation is money. Another factor is the likelihood that students will accept admissions offers. Colleges care about their yield, the proportion of accepted students who enroll. Students who are legacies are already connected to the school, which is an indicator that they could be likely to attend if admitted.


Does the “sibling legacy” exist?


Parents are primary legacies for students. If one or both of your parents graduated from a college to which you’re applying, this will offer you an admissions boost. But some colleges also consider secondary legacies, such as grandparents and siblings.


You might get a small boost from a secondary legacy, which includes siblings, but it ultimately depends on the school’s policy. Typically, the further removed the family member is from you, the less of an impact the connection will have in the admissions process. Some colleges, including the University of California system and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status at all.


If the college considers legacy status, the admissions committee will also look at the relationship the family member has with the school. In fact, when you list a legacy relationship on your application, it will certainly be sent over to alumni relations, where they will pull a record of your relative’s donations. If you list a sibling, admissions officers will likely pull up their academic records to see if they’re a strong student. They may also unearth their college application and compare their profile strength to yours.


If you have a relative who is a big donor to the school, this will likely be in your favor. Meanwhile, if your sibling is doing well (or did well at the school in the past) and your profile is as strong as theirs, that will reflect well on your candidacy, too.


The Bottom Line


If you do have a sibling legacy, it could give you a small boost in the admissions process. However, you’ll still need to make sure your profile and application are as strong as possible. While a parent legacy can give you an edge if your profile is weaker than the average admit, a sibling legacy likely won’t give you the same kind of advantage.


Wondering how your profile compares with typical accepted students at your dream college? Our Chancing Engine will give you the answers you need. CollegeVine will take into account your quantitative and qualitative information, including GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars, to estimate your real odds of admission to more than 500 colleges and universities in the United States. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.