Admissions process
The use of non-academic admissions criteria favour white and wealthy applicants for some elite institutions. Source: Shutterstock

Admission to elite universities, including Ivy Leagues, is known to be highly competitive, with institutions generally upholding low acceptance rates.

For instance, on its website, Harvard University notes that it received 43,330 applicants for its Class of 2023, while only a small sliver of students were admitted – 2,009 to be exact (4.6 percent). 

Columbia University received 42,569 first year applicants for its Class of 2023 undergraduate programme, only admitting 2,247 students (5.3 percent).

With prestigious universities receiving thousands of applicants from all corners of the globe, this might raise questions about the fairness of the admissions process.

Zeroing in on Harvard’s admissions process

Recruited athletes are over 14 times as likely to be admitted as those that are not recruited athletes. Source: Shutterstock

A new study on Harvard’s admissions process has found that children of faculty and staff (ALDC applicants or legacy preferences), those on the dean’s list or athletes have a higher admission rate than other applicants, despite not having better grades. 

In the paper titled, Legacy and athlete preferences at Harvard, the authors note that “legacy preferences will tend to benefit white applicants relative to other racial groups”. Applicants and admits who are the children of faculty and staff “are disproportionately white and come from higher income households”.

In other words, the use of non-academic admissions criteria primarily favours white and wealthy applicants.

Among white admits, over 43 percent are ALDC. The share is less than 16 percent each among admits who are African American, Asian American and Hispanic.

“As an example, 40 percent of non-ALDC applicants are white, while nearly 70 percent of legacy applicants are white,” the paper notes.

Children of faculty and staff “are also about 20 times more likely to interview with a member of the admissions office”, authors claim.

Meanwhile, recruited athletes are over 14 times more likely to be admitted as those  who are not recruited athletes. 

Researchers also estimate that roughly three-quarters of white legacy students would have been rejected if they had been treated the same as their non-white peers.

Researchers said that “removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged”.

It pays to attend a prestigious university

Despite the hefty price tag that comes with being a Harvard student, it pays to graduate from the institution – literally. 

Based on research firm Wealth-X’s Ultra High Net Worth Alumni Rankings 2019, Harvard has the highest ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) alumni. The institution has an estimated 13,650 UHNW graduates worth a whopping US$4.769 trillion.

The benefits of attending prestigious institutions are well documented, but it appears that the upper echelons of the food chain benefit from a leg up when it comes to prestigious college admissions. 

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