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How Can You Get Into the Ivy League Without Legacy Status?

Jan 31, 2024

Ivy League institutions have long prioritized legacy status in their admissions processes, giving the family members of alumni an advantageous position in top universities’ ever-swelling applicant pools. However, amidst ongoing scrutiny, legacy admissions considerations have become a source of contention and confusion for both parents and students.

Despite public scrutiny of institutions’ admissions policies, widespread disapproval of legacy privileges, and a Department of Education investigation into Harvard’s use of legacy and donor preferences in admissions, Ivy League universities continue to insist on the importance of legacy. Simultaneously, they are increasingly emphasizing meritocracy and diversity and demonstrating a commitment to creating inclusive communities in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. This commitment is often regarded as incompatible with the priority given to socioeconomically advantaged children of alums through legacy admissions.

Though the future of legacy admissions remains unknown, these changing trends have left many parents and students asking: Can you still secure a coveted spot without the privilege of legacy status? And how can students maximize their chances of acceptance without the boost that legacy status affords?

While legacy status might continue to offer some benefits in the Ivy League admissions process, it is by no means the sole determining factor. Students without legacy status should focus on honing three critical components of a successful application: academic excellence, demonstrated passion, and a unique perspective.

1. Academic Excellence

While factors such as honors and awards, activities, and essays remain crucial for standing out in the admissions process, academic excellence is the bedrock of any Ivy League application. Students should strive to maintain a 4.0 GPA—particularly in the courses that directly relate to their intended area of study. Additionally, students with Ivy League aspirations should remember that the rigor of their coursework is equally as important as their GPA; it is thus important for students to plan ahead and enroll in the most challenging courses offered at their school in order to demonstrate an ability to take on the intellectual rigor of the Ivy League. Finally, applicants should set a goal of achieving a 1550+ SAT or 35+ ACT score. Many schools are in the process of re-evaluating their test-optional policies, and standardized test scores seem poised to make a comeback in the near future, making a stellar score all the more critical.

2. Demonstrated Passion

Top schools, flushed with tens of thousands of applications, seek to craft a well-balanced incoming class made up of students with unique and clearly articulated interests. Because of this, students should think carefully about what will distinguish them from thousands of other Ivy League hopefuls and start to craft a profile with a cohesive hook early on in their high school careers. Students should start considering their passions freshman year and tailor their extracurriculars, summer plans, and coursework around their guiding interest. Additionally, spearheading a passion project that uses their interests to explore their interests further or to meet a need in their community will show Ivy League institutions that they are genuinely passionate about their area of interest.

3. Distinct Perspective

Ivy League institutions recognize the importance of fostering diverse and inclusive campus communities. Admissions officers actively seek to admit candidates from a variety of backgrounds—whether geographic, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, or religious—who can offer a range of perspectives from their varied experiences. Students should use the personal and supplemental essays on their applications to articulate how their unique background has shaped their distinct outlook on life. Just as they highlight their unique interests, students should showcase their story and voice in order to show how they will meaningfully contribute to their future campus community.

While legacy status is often an advantage in the admissions process, it is not a substitute for intellectual rigor, authentic passion, or unique outlook. Whether or not they can claim legacy privileges, students should start early in their high school careers to sharpen these three pillars of their application and maximize their chances of success in the admissions process.

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