Ellie Park, Photography Editor

Yale students — like many across the country — are increasingly demanding that universities end their legacy admissions preferences. With Connecticut poised to pass the country’s first bill banning legacy preference at both public and private institutions, Yale has spoken out in favor of legacy admissions. Meanwhile, students against the practice disagree on whether policy changes should come from the University or the state.

The News interviewed a dozen students about Yale’s use of legacy preference in admissions, eleven of whom said that they would like to see the practice eliminated or scaled back. Nine of the students said that they would prefer Yale to end the practice on its own, with six of those students adding that they would support a governmental ban if Yale refuses. Two students preferred an outright governmental ban.

Owen Haywood ’26 said that legacy preference is antithetical to Yale’s goals of fairness and diversity.

“I think it’s a relic of colleges, and particularly Ivy League institutions, as institutions of aristocracy and catering to the wealthy and the elite,” he said. “I think it’s fundamentally opposed to [Yale’s] mission as a meritocratic organization that rewards hard work and talent.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned the use of affirmative action in college admissions, pressure has grown from college students and in state legislatures across the country to eliminate the use of legacy preference as well. Three-fourths of Americans oppose the practice, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. 

Legislators in seven different states have proposed measures to ban legacy admissions, including SB 203, a bill currently under debate in Connecticut. While Yale opposed the bill in a March hearing, the Yale College Council testified in its favor. Seven Yale cultural clubs as well as the Yale FGLI Advocacy Movement also signed the YCC’s statement.

Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said that Yale’s recent initiatives to recruit increasingly diverse classes have seen success such that eliminating legacy preference would not be helpful or necessary to these goals.

Per his testimony against SB 203, 22 percent of students in the Yale College class of 2027 are eligible for Pell Grants, 21 percent are first-generation college students and 59 percent are domestic students who identify as members of a minority racial or ethnic group. Over the past 10 years, he said, the number of Pell-eligible students has doubled, and the number of first-generation students has increased by more than 60 percent.

Quinlan said that rather than banning legacy preference, Connecticut should focus on initiatives that work to directly increase access for FGLI students, including investing in recruitment and outreach programs.

Disagreement among supporters

KaLa Keaton ’25 co-founded and serves as co-president of Yale’s Generational African American Student Association, one of the clubs that signed the YCC’s testimony. Keaton said GAASA supported the bill because she and others in the organization “fully agree” with it “content-wise,” and their primary goal was to send the message that they oppose the use of legacy preference.

However, despite GAASA’s support for the bill, Keaton said that she personally would prefer an institution-led initiative over a governmental ban to achieve the goal of eliminating legacy admissions. She said she is wary about the idea of state legislators regulating universities, especially private ones.

Like Keaton, Joshua Ching ’26 would like legacy preference to become a thing of the past. In his view, however, a governmental ban like SB 203 would be the best way to do so because, if passed, it would force Yale to change its admissions policy quickly.

“The priority really should be on the outcome, and at this point, the process has shown that the University is dragging its feet on this issue,” he said.

Jairus Rhoades ’26 said that it would be “gratifying” to see Yale end legacy admissions itself — and that it would avoid a “tone of reluctance” from the University that he fears would follow a governmental ban. However, he said he would support a ban if it were the only path to elimination.

Rhoades added, however, that he would be interested in Yale reinstating legacy admissions in a “nuanced way” at some point in the future, when children of the more diverse recent classes begin to apply.

Changing on-campus culture

Haywood said that he has noticed a social divide between legacy and non-legacy students.

“From the perspective of a non-legacy student who tends to hang out a lot more with other non-legacy students, there tends to be a legacy versus not-legacy divide,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a super hard divide, but I think you can definitely tell that a lot of legacy students came from similar backgrounds or went to similar high schools, and have similar shared life experiences and tend to hang out more together.”

Rhoades said that while he has not experienced a divide between legacy and non-legacy students at Yale, he did in high school while applying to colleges.

Rhoades said that he encountered the prospect of legacy preference early in high school and that it left him with a bad taste in his mouth. In his senior year, when he was applying to colleges, he said that the competitive atmosphere in his high school meant that he and his friends viewed students differently if they knew they were legacy applicants to competitive colleges.

“It was harmful in terms of how people not included in that legacy pool viewed their friends who are,” he said.

David Rutitsky ’27 said that from his perspective as a first-generation college student, he “knows what it’s like to have to work your way up to get something like this” and would likely consider supporting a governmental ban on legacy preference if it becomes clear to him that Yale definitely will not eliminate the practice itself.

“Yale is a private institution, so I believe they should have the right to admit whoever they want,” he said, but “it definitely goes against a lot of their standards of merit and merit-based admissions.”

Societal implications

Evan Burkeen ’27 said he opposes government regulation of Yale’s admissions process because he thinks the government should step in when it would bring a “net benefit to society,” and that Yale, as a private institution, serves its students — not society as a whole. He also said that he is concerned about any governmental regulation of private schools, which he said could be a slippery slope, citing laws in Florida banning the teaching of critical race theory as an example of undue regulation.

Keaton also said that she worries about the precedent the bill could set for future governmental regulation of higher education, citing bills proposed elsewhere in the country to defund diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, offices and banning the teaching of critical race theory. “With this bill roping in private universities, I’m concerned that that will give other states the way to oppress their own private universities,” she said.

Burkeen said, however, that legacy preference should be eliminated because the benefits it once promised, such as networking with alumni and other students, are no longer relevant. Since acceptance rates at selective universities have become so small, he said, a new spillover effect is emerging that will mean an increasing number of high-achieving students will attend other schools. He believes that increasingly, networking among high-achieving students will not only occur at selective universities — so it will be less important for legacy students to attend schools like Yale.

In contrast, Julian Daniel ’24 called the use of legacy preference “un-American” because it infringes upon the core American principle of meritocracy.

“What legacy admissions says is that because of something that you didn’t do, because of a factor that you had no choice in, you get an advantage when applying to one of the most competitive schools in the world.”

Daniel said that he wholeheartedly supports the Connecticut bill because his prime concern is eliminating legacy preference, and he has no confidence that Yale will come to that decision itself.

He said that he is not worried about government intervention setting a bad precedent because “this isn’t a law that would interfere with Yale’s academic freedom … it’s an economic justice issue.”

Impact on diversity

Roy Kohavi ’26 said that the University is being hypocritical by continuing to grant legacy preference now that it is unable to use affirmative action in admissions.

He questioned why Yale considers it to be an important part of the admissions process.

“I think it’s a matter of principle that we should not preference certain people because they have connections here,” Kohavi said. “You’ve got to stick to whatever fairness principle you had before.”

Ching, who is Hawaiian, said that he is worried Yale will begin to admit far fewer students who are Pacific Islanders if legacy preference continues while use of affirmative action has ceased, a concern echoed by students affiliated with other cultural groups.

Ching said that, speaking from a Hawaiian perspective, the use of legacy preference raises questions about what “forms of knowledge production” Yale values.

Kohavi also noted that while he supports SB 203, he hopes “on a deeper level” that Yale will take it as an opportunity to listen to student voices.

Kohavi, who is the voter advocacy coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, said that to persuade Yale, students would have to petition, protest, hold fundraiser events, rope in alumni and carefully explain their position.

“Many of the things we have now are because of students,” Kohavi explained. “I would feel better knowing that it wasn’t just because the state mandated a legacy ban.”

Jesse Okoche ’26, an international student from Botswana, said he has gone to school with many “brilliant students,” but almost none of them come to top universities in the U.S. because there are several barriers to admission to U.S. colleges, including legacy preference.

Okoche said that attending a school like Yale can jumpstart success for international students, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

“I would go as far as to say it’s anti-international student … If they don’t get to come here, speaking as a low income student, the only other option is to go to the nearest university, and the degree of difference between the standard of education that you receive here at Yale, I’m not being extreme when I say that you are costing a really high potential future for that international student.”

For the class of 2027, 11 percent are legacy students.

Josie Reich covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Washington, DC, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in American Studies.