Want to Go to an Elite College? Select Your Parents Wisely

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Students looking to get into an elite college might be better off skipping the SAT prep courses -- and instead spend their time and money on an Ancestry.com membership to try to find a long-lost relative who went to the school.

Come to think of it, that project might make a good application essay.

A new study conducted by a Harvard researcher shows that, all other things being equal, a legacy applicant is 23.4% more likely to be admitted to an elite college. If you are a primary legacy -- that is, one of your parents attended the college -- your probability of admission jumps by 45.1%.

Richard H. Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid at Stanford University, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that "We consider access and opportunity a very important principle. We also value intergenerational connections to the Stanford experience."

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The sad thing about a legacy policy is that it makes admission to an elite college easiest for students who are least likely to benefit from it. One study found that students accepted into elite schools who attend less selective colleges earn the same amount of money as students who attend elite colleges. But that study did find that there was one group of students who benefited from attending elite colleges: students from low-income families.

Finally, I have to ask: If colleges are going to operate as 19th-century social clubs -- where bloodlines rather than ability determine admissions, at least in some marginal way -- why are they still tax-exempt?

Zac Bissonnette'
sDebt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parentswas called the "best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process" by The Washington Post.
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