March 6, 2007

Admissions: Legacy students don’t have edge

Some high school students applying to join the Class of 2011 share a history with the University dating back to before they were born.

Although these students are the children of alumni, they do not receive the highly preferential treatment that many believe their “legacy” status affords.

The University has no official policy on the children of alumni, said Ted O’Neill, dean of Admissions.

“It is most accurate to say that we wish to treat alumni children with the same care and respect we treat all applicants, and, when it comes to doing the kind of reading we do—careful, painstaking, comprehensive—we do not ignore the fact that a student has a connection to the University that may be meaningful,” O’Neill said in an e-mail interview. “Of course, the meaning has to be conveyed in the kind of application a prospective student writes.”

O’Neill said meaningful connections can be articulated in student essays; for example, “I know and love the College because I have visited my sister there, and met her friends and hung out in the Shoreland and talked all night about things that thrill me” or “[I] talked to my mom as long as I can remember about the life, the conversations, the dorms, the Core, etc.”

Although the application fee is waived for family of alumni, the Alumni Relations office is not in contact with the Admissions office, said Christine Singer, executive director of the Alumni Association.

“We want to do everything we can to inform and encourage serious consideration of Chicago by children of alumni, but once they do apply, we step back,” she said. “There is not, and should not be, any connection between the Alumni Association and the admissions process while it is underway. Once the child of an alumnus is admitted, we offer congratulations. Once the kid decides to come here, then we celebrate.”

In recent years, books like Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen and Daniel Golden’s The Price of Admission have criticized the role that money and legacy can play in the college admissions process. A 2004 study by Princeton University professor Thomas Espenshade compared three unnamed private universities’ admissions decisions. He found that being black counted for roughly 230 extra points on the SAT, being an athlete was worth 200 points, and being a legacy student counted for 160 points.

Some college admissions experts disagree about the importance of legacy. David Petersan, president of consulting firm.

AdmissionsConsultants, said legacy does not play as large a role as people tend to believe.

At most, legacy shows that a student is sincerely interested in a school, he said.

“When you’re crafting your essay, you have better reasons for why you want to go there,” Petersan said. “The admission office knows that if they offer you a place, there’s a greater chance you’re interested. People don’t always understand the process, and so it’s an easy reason to latch on to, but it’s not well-founded.”

First-year Christine Buras, whose parents met in the Shoreland residence hall and then spent more than 10 years on campus, said she regarded the U of C differently because of her parents’ experience at the school.

“There are actual questions on the Uncommon App about how you heard about the University and if you know anyone who attended and what their relationship to the University was,” Buras said. “I basically wrote that I’ve heard stories about the U of C and living in Hyde Park for as long as I can remember.”