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February 26, 2024

Legacy applicants given extra consideration - Slightly lower high school grades don't determine college performance

By Peter Sicher | September 18, 2008

At Hopkins, the average high school GPA of students accepted as legacies is .05 lower than that of regularly accepted students.

The statistic was revealed by the Admissions Office and comes after a recent study at Duke University found that undergraduate legacy students, who make up a large percentage of Duke's student body, tend to underperform in a competitive college environment.

In the Hopkins admissions process, receiving the application of the child of alumni "causes us to give their applications an additional read. We take a little extra time to be sure of the decision we are making," said John Latting, dean of undergraduate admissions.

Latting went on to say that, "We ask things of [alumni] and we want them to be involved with the University. When we get such an application [from a legacy student], we send a note saying 'We received the application; We aren't going to make promises, but we just want to thank you for thinking of us for the next generation.' It's a courtesy."

In a subsequent interview, Latting said that because an extra person reads the applications of legacy students, "occasionally we make changes ... There are a few who move from being denied to the waitlist and a few who move from the waitlist to being accepted."

Legacies have the unique resource of being able to turn to family members who have direct experience and established social networks when applying to universities.

When asked whether the University took past contributions from alumni into account when considering the applications of their children, Latting explained, "It's a human process. There are many ways to contribute. There are some alumni who have been extremely active, serving on committees, sitting on boards ... We don't forget these things ... It's not something that makes a big difference in the process, but it can make a difference."

According to the Office of Admissions, 68 freshmen with alumni parents enrolled in Hopkins this year, a significantly lower percentage of the student body compared to peer institutions. Latting said in a second interview that 380 applications were received from the children of alumni.

"We do study [legacy] success at Hopkins and we don't find that legacies perform differently as freshman. Whether you are legacy or not doesn't predict anything," Latting said.

Duke University Professor Kenneth Spenner and graduate student Nathan Martin recently published a study in August that found that Duke legacy students underperformed during their first year in college compared to non-legacy students of similar socio-economic background.

The Duke study found that in "Admissions Committee ratings, collected from institutional files, legacies had the lowest scores ... for achievement and personal qualities, and lower scores than other students with college graduate parents for curriculum, essay, test scores and recommendation letters."

"As legacies comprise such an affluent high status group, admissions preferences also raise questions of equity in higher education." Martin wrote in an e-mail to the News-Letter.

Martin's study argued that legacies "can help colleges and universities meet financial objectives as well as maintain a sense of historical continuity on campus."

Latting said that having legacy students at Hopkins "gives us a stronger sense of community and a sense among alumni that they are valued." He pointed out that "the average high school GPA for legacy students is 3.75 and the average for non-legacy students is 3.80 so that is a difference but it isn't very big. We find the same thing with SAT scores. The academic profile is very close."

At Duke, the difference in legacy performance is more pronounced, with legacy students earning lower-than-expected grades during the first college year.

According to Martin, "compared to students who have at least one (non-alumni) parent with a college degree, legacies have slightly lower SAT scores, as well as slightly lower levels of self-reported academic skills, ability and confidence. Also, legacies consider being a good student to be less important [when compared with other students]."

According to the study, Duke legacies score over two tenths of a letter grade lower in the first semester than students with professional degree parents and about one-tenth lower than other students with college degree parents.

However, after the first college year, legacies largely close this gap with students with professional degree parents and beyond the first year achieve higher grades in each semester compared to students with other degree parents, making up for any weakness at their time of admission.

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