Amherst College lowers admission benefit for children of alumni


Amherst College is abandoning its policy of preferring applicants whose parents have attended the Massachusetts Liberal Arts School, making it one of the first private elite colleges to give up old admissions.

Select schools like Amherst have received extensive scrutiny in recent years because they have put a thumb on the scale for senior applicants.

“We are doing what we can to investigate where the barriers are and change what we can change,” as the school pushes its efforts for wider access, said Amherst President Biddy Martin.

The school, which had an 8.5% acceptance rate that year, historically favored all children of academically qualified graduates. Dr. Martin said that legacies are often among the top applicants, so many can still be accepted regardless of their family ties.

“You will stand on your own two feet,” said Matthew L. McGann, the school’s dean for admissions and financial aid.


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He said the move was a “natural extension” of the school’s previous efforts to improve access, such as enrolling more community college students and military veterans and removing loans from their financial aid packages. In recent years, approximately 11% of Amherst’s admitted students have been heirs; this year, 18% of freshmen are first-generation college students.

Few other schools have responded to recent public pressure.

Proponents of legacy policies say the favor given to alumni children helps raise funds and keep alumni in the school -generation college students and be admitted at least two to three times higher than the rest of the applicant pool.

According to a 2019 study by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 43 percent of private, nonprofit colleges and 14 percent of public universities consider legacy status for admission. Seventy-three percent of highly selective schools – those accepting less than a quarter of applicants – consider legacy status.

Amherst, which has roughly 1,850 students, is unlikely to single-handedly change the state of selective college admission. But his policy change on old-time licensing preferences could help accelerate a burgeoning movement.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore began phasing out the legacy preference in 2014 and officially announced the postponement in 2019. The proportion of accepted students whose parents attend school has more than doubled this year from 8.5% in 2013 to 3.7 generation college students, to 17.8%.

And in May, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed a law banning preference for senior admissions to that state’s public colleges and universities.

The California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also do not consider legacy status.

American public university tuition fees have nearly tripled since 1990. While President Biden is looking to take some of the pressure off some students, experts explain how government grant programs can actually add to soaring costs. Photo: Storyblocks

The extent of the benefit legacies can have was highlighted in a 2018 civil case against Harvard University in which Plaintiffs argued the school had discriminated against against Asian-American applicants. In extensive data reports put on the court record, an economist employed by the plaintiffs found that children of Harvard College graduates boarded more than five times as likely as those who were not bequests.

A Harvard spokeswoman said legacy status was “one factor among many in our approval process” and declined to comment.

Dr. Martin said she was not concerned about the alumni backlash against the school’s new policy.

“There is a risk that some will feel offended by it. But I believe that over time the vast majority of Amherst alumni have become so focused on fairness and opportunity that it will work, ”she said. “And there is a risk that is important at this point.”

Write to Melissa Korn at [email protected]

Corrections & reinforcements
Eighteen percent of this year’s freshmen at Amherst College are first-generation students. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 18.5% of Amherst’s first grade college students are first generation. (Corrected October 20.)

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