Madeline Bardi’s parents were just like her when they met: spending their college years at GW.
The Bardi family’s memories are colored with moments that occurred on campus. Her parents, Matilda and John, were in medical school and working at GW Hospital when they got engaged outside The President Condominiums and later had a child at the hospital.
That makes Bardi, a junior, one of a small but growing population of legacy students at GW who enter school already immersed in GW culture. Only about 440, or 4 percent of undergraduates, are considered legacy students – with a parent or sibling who already have ties to GW.
With a GW community built into her family tree, Madeline said she recognizes her family is atypical – posters of famous alumni hung on her home’s walls, a Colonials rocking chair became furniture and a GW flag her parents stole off of a pole on campus flew outside the house.
“I think GW does kind of lack that school spirit and that legacy pride – I don’t know many other legacies here,” she said.
But the number of legacy students is growing. About 8 percent of the class of 2017 identified themselves in their application as a legacy, Director of Admissions Karen Felton said – a sharp rise from 3.6 percent of legacy students in the class of 2014.
Molly Kastendieck, associate director for atudent-alumni programs, said the process of crafting a more defined legacy program will be “slow-moving.” But she sees the rise in attendance at events like biannual luncheons for legacy students as a positive sign.
But even with the number of legacies growing at GW, Kastendieck said she still does not see urban GW developing as spirited of a culture as other universities.
“It’s just a matter of how GW has changed so much,” Kastendieck said. “There are some traditions that we have, but so many have changed and that connection has been different throughout the generations, so perhaps it’s not always the same expectation.”
That’s a different story for a school like University of Miami, where 14 percent of the 10,000 undergraduates are legacies.
James Sullivan, Miami’s senior associate director of admissions, said students he interviews for undergraduate slots sometimes bring photos of their Miami-themed bar mitzvah or pictures of them in Miami-logo diapers.
“They haven’t started to take classes and they know all the cheers. The enthusiasm they have as freshman rubs off on all the other kids who are here,” Sullivan said.
The surge of legacies can taper off though as universities increase their academic standards and the children of alumni seek out other options.
“U of M has really changed dramatically, especially in the last 10 to 20 years. It’s been really competitive,” Sullivan said. “Alumni were not aware how competitive the school really was. People kept calling saying, ‘It was good enough for me, but why is it not good enough for my daughter or son?’”
Universities like American and Miami do not include siblings in their definition, whereas GW defines a legacy student as a parent, sibling, aunt or uncle who is either a current student or alumnus. GW also offers a special half-off tuition “GW Family Grant” to students who enter with siblings already attending the University.
Legacy siblings can serve as walking advertisements for the University, giving prospective students an alternative to generic campus visits as they learn the ins and outs of GW from their family members.
Sophomore Jackie Susuni was introduced to GW culture “from the inside” by sister and now Student Association President Julia Susuni, which she said heavily influenced her college decision.
“I came to GW prior to being accepted so I started meeting her friends when she was here, and I started learning about GW and D.C.,” Jackie Susuni said. “I never went on a GW tour, because I didn’t need to. I knew so much more from being in the community, being with my sister and her friends.”