Admissions process favors legacies

Applicants with a parent who attended GW are 1.5 times more likely to be accepted into the University, but legacy applicants get less preferential treatment at the University than legacies at other highly selective colleges.

A study by a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that students applying to a parent’s alma mater have, on average, seven times the odds of gaining admission than non-legacy applicants.

Last year, GW admitted 220 legacies, nearly half of the 467 legacy applicants, according to data provided by Executive Dean for Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper. That admit rate is nearly 20 percentage points higher than GW’s 31.4 percent overall admit rate.

The University accepted 220 legacy applicants last year and 86 decided to enroll. Legacy students make up 3.6 percent of the Class of 2014.

University officials say that taking legacy status into account during the admissions process helps cultivate a sense of community on campus.

“We look for students who understand and appreciate the GW culture, spirit and academic ethos,” Napper said in an e-mail. “One area in which this happens is with children of alumni, who have come to know GW through their parent(s) and want to continue the GW legacy.”

Every May, the University holds a GW Commencement Legacy Family Reception to bring together different generations of Colonials.

“[They] are a group we work to keep involved with the Alumni Association and the University,” Executive Director of Alumni Strategic Marketing and Communication Matt Lindsay said.

Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a supporter of legacy admissions, said families foster a relationship with GW when multiple generations attend.

“We want to encourage families to think of George Washington as their University,” Trachtenberg said at a panel discussion last September on the moral ramifications of legacy preferences in higher education institutions.

In the Harvard study, legacy status mattered more at the most-selective and least-selective colleges than it did at those in the middle tiers. It also found that at top-tier colleges, primary legacy status – a parental connection – gave a 51.6-point advantage, while secondary legacy status – having a parent who attended graduate school, or a sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle who attended as a graduate or undergraduate – brought an advantage of only 8.7 percentage points.

Although GW does note legacy status as a factor for admitting students, Napper said it would not make up for “weak academic performance.”

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