Yale to review its legacy admissions preference: ‘Everything is up for discussion’
In his first public comment on the subject since the fall of affirmative action, University President Peter Salovey said that the future of legacy admissions preferences at Yale is under deliberation.
Logan Howard, Senior Photographer
On a panel during Yale College’s Family Weekend earlier this month, University President Peter Salovey answered a question about the future of legacy admissions at Yale.
In his answer — the first time any University administrator has spoken publicly on the matter since the fall of affirmative action earlier this year — Salovey explained that he and other University officials have been undergoing deliberations that include the future of legacy admissions.
“We are trying to ask, ‘Is [legacy admissions] getting in the way of diversifying our applicant pool, or is it not?’” Salovey said on the panel. “And then we will make the decision on the basis of that, rather than what the political pressure is. But the political pressure is not completely irrelevant. So we will see. Everything is up for discussion this year, in this new era of admissions. But no decision yet.”
Eleven percent of the Yale College class of 2027 are legacies, according to the admissions office’s First-Year Class Profile. This number marks a slight decrease in legacy population from the class of 2026, which has 12 percent legacy students, and the class of 2025, which has 14 percent legacy students.
In July, the Department of Education began a probe into donor and legacy admissions preferences at Harvard. The investigation follows a federal complaint filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of three Black and Latine advocacy groups in Boston alleging that legacy admissions practices at Harvard violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by favoring white applicants.
According to studies cited in the complaint, nearly 70 percent of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white. Rates of admission are nearly seven times higher for donor-related applicants than for non-donor-related applicants and nearly six times higher for legacies than for non-legacies.
Salovey noted that he is unsure whether eliminating legacy admissions would contribute to more diversity in matriculating Yale classes.
If Yale did not have a slight preference for legacy applicants, Salovey said, those applicants would be replaced by students whose parents simply went to a different elite college, rather than students who come from significantly different backgrounds.
A February analysis by the News suggests that removing legacy preference would increase racial diversity.
Salovey added that the alumni population whose children are now applying to Yale as legacies is “far more diverse” now than it has been in the past. The News’ February analysis found that at least through 2034, there are likely to be far more potential white legacy applicants than legacy applicants of color.
“Last June’s Supreme Court decision prompted us to give careful thought to a great many aspects of our holistic admissions process,” Salovey wrote in an email to the News. “One such aspect of this process is the way in which we take into account that an applicant’s family member attended Yale. This aspect of our admissions process certainly hasn’t been excluded from our continuing deliberations.”
The issue of legacy and donor preference has gained particular attention with the end of race-conscious admissions, although many competitive universities moved away from the practice years before.
Selective schools that dropped legacy admissions in recent years — before the Supreme Court’s June ruling against affirmative action — include Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and Amherst College.
Wesleyan University announced in July, nearly a month after the Supreme Court axed affirmative action, that it was dropping its preference for legacy applicants.
When the News reached out for comment, a Wesleyan spokesperson pointed to a July 19 public statement from the university’s president, Michael Roth.
“An applicant’s connection to a Wesleyan graduate indicates little about that applicant’s ability to succeed at the University, meaning that legacy status has played a negligible role in our admission process for many years,” Roth wrote in the statement. “Nevertheless, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action, we believe it important to formally end admission preference for ‘legacy applicants.’”
While other elite universities have begun to disavow legacy admissions, no schools in the Ivy League have yet renounced the practice.
In an interview with the Harvard Crimson earlier this month, university President Claudine Gay said “everything is on the table” in regards to legacy admissions in Cambridge.
“I can’t, nor do I think it is actually productive to try to predict where that conversation is going to go,” she said. “But I think it’s a real signal of what a watershed moment we’re facing in higher ed, that we’re thinking and having conversations at this level of expansiveness.”
A Dartmouth spokesperson told the Boston Globe in July that the university will continue to consider legacy and donor status when evaluating applicants for admission.
With the comment, Dartmouth became the first Ivy League school to publicly announce its formal continuation of legacy admissions.
“A legacy connection will continue to be one factor among dozens that Dartmouth considers when evaluating applicants; those categories include academic performance, qualitative information from essays and recommendations, extracurricular engagement, geography and academic interests, among others,” the spokesperson said.
Salovey’s new comments mark the first time Yale has publicly addressed the question of legacy and donor-biased admissions since the fall of affirmative action.
Before the affirmative action ruling, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan publicly expressed opposition to a proposed statewide ban on favoring children of alumni in the admissions process.
In February 2022, a bill — HB 5034 — was submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly proposing the end of legacy admissions in the state as a means of making college admissions more equitable.
In a written statement addressing the bill, Quinlan opined that, while Yale hopes to become more accessible to first-generation low-income students, he does not believe that issuing a statewide ban on legacy admissions is a means to that end. He argued that while universities could independently decide to bar legacy preference, a state restriction would pave the way for “other intrusions on academic freedom.”
“Even without [legacy] preference, students with more resources will still have an advantage in college admissions, just as they have an advantage in securing a good job and in many other aspects of daily life. Instead, the state should support schools in their efforts to identify, recruit, and graduate low-income and first-generation students,” Quinlan wrote, adding that “Yale has already realized a dramatic increase in the representation of these students on our campus in the past decade, without eliminating other admissions preferences.”
The Yale College Council has passed numerous resolutions condemning the role of legacy preference in the University’s admissions.
In an open letter to the University published in the News this summer, YCC President and Vice President Julian Suh-Toma and Maya Fonkeu called on Yale to move away from its use of legacy and donor-biased admissions.
“We urge Yale to take this moment to reconsider the role of legacy status in admissions,” Suh-Toma and Fonkeu wrote in the letter. “We are struck by the irony of continued consideration of an arbitrary privilege in the face of new restrictions in ensuring diversity on college campuses. A system that has by and large benefitted Yale’s most fortunate communities further augments the inequities that this ruling has exacerbated.”
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is located at 38 Hillhouse Ave.