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Amherst Ends Legacy Admissions

Nov 9, 2021

Amherst College has ended legacy preference, no longer giving children of alumni an advantage in admissions. This decision was made in an attempt to level the playing field in college admissions, as Amherst wants to create access to educational opportunities for as many students as possible. Biddy Martin, the president of Amherst College, said of the decision, “We want to create as much opportunity for as many academically talented young people as possible, regardless of financial background or legacy status.” Currently, about 11% of each class at Amherst is made up of legacy students.

Along with ending legacy preference, Amherst is expanding their financial aid investment to $71 million. This expansion will allow Amherst to offer financial support to 60% percent of its students. Additionally, students in families below the median household income are expected to receive scholarships that cover full tuition, boarding, and meals. As of last year, Amherst is one of the most expensive colleges in America, with a price tag of $76,800 (including tuition, room and board). While Amherst is one of the most expensive colleges, it is also the only liberal arts college in the US with a need-blind admissions process that offers loan-free scholarships to many families.

Amherst College is one of only a few highly selective colleges to end legacy after Johns Hopkins University, California Institute of Technology, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A 2011 study found that legacy students were three times more likely to be admitted to universities than non-legacy students. Since Johns Hopkins ended legacy admissions seven years ago, the school has seen the percentage of first-generation students and Pell Grant eligible students jump considerably. The percentage of Pell Grant-eligible students went from 12.8% in 2013 to 20.1% in 2021. Some argue that donations may suffer if schools end legacy preferences because alumni are major donors to elite universities. However, Johns Hopkins did not see a dip in alumni donations after ending legacy admissions in 2014, or after announcing the change in 2019. In fact, the university saw “broad alumni support” of the change.

Since Amerst announced the decision to end legacy preference, debates have reignited around whether or not other top universities should end their legacy admission practices. Ivy League universities such as Princeton and Harvard are especially facing pressure to join Amherst in ceasing this policy. However, these elite universities are pushing back, stating that ending this practice will not actually help equity given that they have spent the last few years diversifying their alumni. For example, at Brown, one-fifth of legacy students are minorities and one-third of legacy students receive financial aid. Additionally, Harvard and Brown University both argue that legacy students are more familiar with the institutions and can mentor fellow non-legacy classmates. These are just a few arguments for and against legacy admissions-there are many more out there. It will be interesting to see if, in the coming months, Amherst ending its legacy admissions practices will create a ripple effect on other schools ending theirs as well.

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