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Talk: Are Legacy Admits Happy?

I am reading an interesting new book from Princeton University Press: "Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities" by four careful scholars.

It is about the barriers to selective college admission for poor and minority applicants. I may have other things to say about the book later, but one recommendation struck me as interesting. Their surveys found that minority students who were likely beneficiaries of affirmative action were less satisfied with college than others. The authors suggest college officials might be inadvertently creating a stigma that attaches to those students, that they had not deserved their acceptance letters. The authors recommended that "administrators at selective colleges and universities should take a cue from the other two affirmative action programs they currently run--for the children of alumni and for people with athletic talent--and present minority affirmative action in an equally positive and affirmative light."

My reaction is this: many of the legacy admits I have known do NOT see their legacy status in a positive light. I know some who have tried to hide it, even though their applications were very strong, because they felt that people would assume they were admitted undeservedly.

What is your reaction? Share it on Admissions 101.

By Washington Post Editors  | March 3, 2009; 10:19 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions 101  
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This is an interesting question. As a former student-athlete, D.I coach and a current private high school guidance counselor, I would contend with the comparison of student-athletes and legacies. Successful student-athletes have divided their time between the classroom and the playing field and deserve to have this fact considered-- assuming they have been successful in both arenas. For a student-athlete to be competing for admission with a regular student who has, in some cases, more than four hours each day to study and focus on academics than the student-athlete does, is not just. Though it is a choice to become a student-athlete, and they should not be rewarded for simply having the opportunity or the inherent talent, it would be ignorant of us as a society to not acknowledge the many positive social, health and psychological benefits of athletics. Just as an fyi, this is similar to talented students in other activities as well, such as those who are talented musicians in marching bands or state honor bands and choirs. The more a student has committed to an activity, no matter if it's speech and debate or water polo, if they have been able to manage their time and maintain strong work in the classroom, then this should be taken into consideration.

Posted by: bnorvall | March 3, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Let me make an anology:

We're shutting down the Washignton Beltway for a mandatory sobriety check. No cars in or out of the city until they pass.

OK, now please view this in the same positive light you would view other traffic obstructions, like the occasional accident or the occaisonal ambulance.

Wait--you say. One shuts down the freeway. The other is an occasional obstruction that I don't really notice.

What percentage of the population is atheletes? 1%? What percent are legacy admits who don't already have the necessary qualifications (since many "legacies" are also qualified on a merit basis)--maybe 3%?

What percent is minorities? 40% of the population--and growing?

What has the greater disparate impact? To a non-minority wanting to "pass" an obsticle on their way in, which group looks more like the occasional accident, and which looks more like a complete roadblock on the 495?

Speaking of "class struggle" it pains me to see old white males, like yourself, invent new--and much higher--standards to be applied only to young white males. We must pay the "tax" of Affirmative Action, 50, maybe 100 times in our careers. You don't even have to pay it once.

If Affirmative Action is such a good idea, you should pay your fair share. Quitting your job now would be a start.

Posted by: test10022 | March 4, 2009 1:36 AM | Report abuse

Does a legacy admit know that that is why they have been admitted? For that matter, does a student who has received extra consideration due to his or her minority status, low family income, fact that parents did not attend college, etc., know which combination of reasons casued him or her to be admitted? Does a student with lower than average SATs know what combination of factors, including extra curricular activities as well as courses taken and GPA know the precise reason for his or her admission?

Unless a school uses a formula including extra points for minority status (which I believe is illegal under Grutter), how does a student even know whether he or she is a minority admit, or a legacy admit?

Posted by: mct210 | March 4, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

"Unless a school uses a formula including extra points for minority status (which I believe is illegal under Grutter), how does a student even know whether he or she is a minority admit, or a legacy admit"

They know if they were at the mean of the class, below the mean of the class, or above the mean of the entering class. If they were substatially below, and near the cutoff, they know that most of the class will suspect they got some sort of preferential treatment.

And yes, people do usually ask (or find out) what their classmate's scores were. In my business school it was easy--high-scoring students put the test score on their resume; low scoring students did not.

Posted by: test10022 | March 4, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Test10022- Your comments about "white males" make me laugh. Are you aware that more females than males attend college these days? In some cases that has turned into an admissions advantage for the males!

Posted by: MLC1 | March 4, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"Test10022- Your comments about "white males" make me laugh. Are you aware that more females than males attend college these days?"

Females are better students but often have lower test scores. The emphasis on grades as being less racially biased has benefited females in recent times. They don't usually score above men in any standardized test that has a math section.

That said, the examples where women are penalized to benefit males are rare and dramatically overhyped. Usually it is still the other way around. After graduation, nearly 100% of the affirmative action benefits women at males expense.

Posted by: test10022 | March 5, 2009 1:44 AM | Report abuse

In other words, women get the benefit for working harder. I don't have a problem with that!

Posted by: MLC1 | March 5, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse

"In other words, women get the benefit for working harder. I don't have a problem with that!"

And men are penalized for forgetting the occasional assignment, but remembering what they learned when test time came around. Or for having a job during college.

And they are penalized for working longer hours after graduation.

Sorry, you have an agenda with comments like these.

Women scored 100 points below men on the GMAT at my business school. They do worse on any test with a math section.

When you have mixed results--which is not suprising--and then deliberately only pay attention to the few that are in women's favor and suggest that it is men that are getting the affirmative action--which, overall is NOT the case--that is a political agenda.

White males would be 100 times better off without affirmative action. They have no desire to attend swathmore to begin with, and are giving up places by the handful on account of being white.

Secondly, like all people, they focus on the things they are good at. That would be standardized tests--and people with your political agenda are trying to get rid of the test entirely.

Thirdly, once they graduate, males are penalized for working harder at females expense. The embrace of Affirmative Action by non-minority women only serves one purpose--they don't want to suffer in the labor market as younger white males have.

They aren't disadvantaged? Great? Write it into the law that they're no longer eligilbe--and instead, will now give up their spot for a minority female in the workplace--just as a white male is required to.

Posted by: test10022 | March 5, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Oh, please! Stop being so bitter. The fact is that men do score better on the Math section of the SAT's and women score better on the reading and writing sections. Women get higher grades because they work harder. Also some schools are now giving men a slight "hook" in admissions.
I have been in the workforce for many years and have never seen any evidence of white males being discriminated against.A story here - about a white man who worked for me several years ago.He was one of our weakest employees, his work was substandard, he missed every deadline for 3 years ( but he was consistant) he lied to me and another manager and I had to monitor him because much of his at work time was spent goofing off. He DID benefit from affirmative action, because that is what he blamed when he didn't get promoted!

Posted by: MLC1 | March 5, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Affirmative action, that is, taking race or gender into account in admissions, has been around for nearly three decades. It has contributed to the increase of middle class minorities, even some who now work in the White House. We, who were admitted to Ivy League and Seven Sister colleges in the late 60s and the 70s, knew we were sought after in part because we were racial minorities. We did not dwell on this; we were there like other students, went to class, took exams and graduated. Most of my colleagues of color are now licensed physicians and lawyers. If anything, we were uncomfortable because the environment was different from ours. Most of our white counterparts were upper middle class. They rode horses. They knew nothing about the inner city or what soul food was. It is feeling isolated that is more troubling to students of color. Moreover, being made to feel inferior, with or without affirmative action, also adds to the discomfort. When George Bush apologizes for taking his opportunity to attend two Ivy League universities when he was a C student, students of color should apologize for theirs.

Posted by: wilcherglobal | March 5, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

"When George Bush apologizes for taking his opportunity to attend two Ivy League universities when he was a C student, students of color should apologize for theirs."

He was asked, "Colleges should get rid of legacy?"

Bush responded, "Well I think so, yes. I think it ought to be based upon merit."

OK, he apologized. So now, when are we getting rid of affirmative action?

Posted by: test10022 | March 6, 2009 2:18 AM | Report abuse

"Oh, please! Stop being so bitter. The fact is that men do score better on the Math section of the SAT's and women score better on the reading and writing sections."

I think men also score better overall; depends on the weight given to each section.

"Women get higher grades because they work harder."

This is debatable. I worked in college; my sister did not. I had a tougher major as well. When I went out at night, I had to buy females drinks.

Women get better grades--but--if its due to working less at a job, that advantage goes away in the workplace where the "day job" is now the only objective. If its due to being better organized in the short term (ie in homework) but forgetful in tests of long-term comprehension, this "advantage" could be eliminated by getting rid of weekly and daily assignments and replacing them with one mid-term and one final. If the advantages are known, its up to the school to emphasize what either group is good at.

Your arguement is this: Because some guy gets preferential treatment at swathmore, the overall affect of Affirmative Action on 90% of white males should be overlooked--even when they are deliberately choosing courses that empahise their strengths and avoiding women's colleges. You admit the overall effect is harmful towards white males and refuse to quanitify the number of affirmative action admits in each direction. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of white males feel they were hurt by the policy and want to see it abolished.

You bolster your arguement by citing the example of one lazy white male complaining about affirmative action--thereby implying that anyone who has this opinion is lazy and therefore not a valid part of our democracy nor entiteld to an opinion.

I was suggest this is not the case. The civil rights movement itself wasn't really brought into being by Martin Luther King but rather by millions of working people--many of whom were lazy, or dishonest, or had sketchy pasts, or some other undesirable trait. The fact they weren't perfect didn't deny them a voice.

The overwhelming evidence in the work place is that women--generally--work fewer hours than men. That is not to say its a fair stereotype to be applied to individuals.

The fact is, I doubt white males are so stupid as to oppose a policy that actually benefits them. Colleges are very secretive in their actual admissions process, but each individual knows what the mean is and what their individual scores were.

I scored in the 99th percentile on my SATs and in the 93rd on my GMAT. And its because I worked harder--I spent weeks doing nothing but practicing for those tests.

I may have even missed an assignment or two.

Posted by: test10022 | March 6, 2009 2:49 AM | Report abuse

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