Depending on who you are, you may love or hate the idea that children of alumni get a preference in the college admissions process. The fact is that most colleges have been using legacy admission both as a recruiting mechanism and as a way to ensure continuing–and vital–alumni giving through the ages.
Just look at this set of lines from Dartmouth school song, now known as “The Alma Mater,” (which was known as “Men of Dartmouth” from the days when Dartmouth was an all-male institution):
Dear old Dartmouth, set a watchLest the old traditions fail!Stand as sister stands by brother!Dare a deed for the old Mother!Greet the world, from the hills, with a hail!For the sons of old Dartmouth,For the daughters of Dartmouth.
Being a son or daughter of Dartmouth alumni does give an applicant a slight edge. Top schools do not really set a “quota” or target for how many legacy admits they will make in a year, but there is no doubt that having that connection is going to help. Legacy status is not a sufficient condition for acceptance: an applicant must have the academic profile as well as other qualitative strengths to bring to the college community. But when given the choice between admitting two qualified candidates, one a legacy and one another “good kid from a good background,” the admissions office is likely to offer admission to the legacy and a nicely written letter of rejection to the other good kid.
A recent article in the Tufts Daily does an excellent job of explaining legacy admissions. Have a look.
Keep in mind that the lack of an alumni tie to a particular school will not generally hurt your chances of admission. But if you do have a parent who attended, that tie might give you a slight advantage. And when it comes to the most highly selective schools, that advantage just may make the difference between acceptance and rejection.