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Harvard Admissions Trial, 1

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 1.

How much does being a legacy matter? First, the Harvard Crimson causes confusion with charts like this:

This suggests that more than 1/3 of Harvard students are “legacy” since it implies that everyone not in the first bar belongs in that category. But that is nonsense! Legacy, at places like Williams and Harvard, has a fairly precise meaning: one or both of your parents attended the college. (Admittedly, sometimes having a grandparent (but not a parent) will get you included as well, but no one counts you as a legacy if all you have is an aunt or twin sister at the school.) The Crimson’s chart presentation, which includes double-counting, makes it hard to see the truth. (I also suspect that some (many?) students misunderstand the Crimson’s wording and answer “Yes” if their mom went to Harvard Law School. Having a parent who attended a university’s professional schools does not make you a “legacy” for the purposes of undergraduate admissions.)

Williams admissions (pdf) are 10% — 15% legacy.

Harvard and Yale have a similar percentage of legacies, as The Crimson reported in 2011:

[Harvard Dean of Admisssions William] Fitzsimmons also said that Harvard’s undergraduate population is comprised of approximately 12 to 13 percent legacies, a group he defined as children of Harvard College alumni and Radcliffe College alumnae. . . . [Yale Dean of Admissions] Brenzel reported that Yale legacies comprise less than 10 percent of the class, according to Kahlenberg.

This is, obviously, very consistent with what Williams has been doing for (at least!) 30 years. I can’t find a clear statement of the percentage of legacies in the 6 Harvard classes covered by this trial, but my back-of-the-envelope calculation puts it at around 12%, similar to what the Crimson reported in 2011 and what we know about Williams.

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#1 Comment By frank uible On October 15, 2018 @ 7:15 am

What about Williams applicants who are legacies, are admitted but choose not to attend (heaven forfend)? Would they be covered somewhere in a similar Williams chart?

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 15, 2018 @ 7:56 am

Not in any chart that I have seen. I don’t get the impression that Williams admissions cares much when they lose a random legacy admit to a different school. They care a great deal about racial and socio-economic diversity.

#3 Comment By Dick Swart On October 15, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

If I recall correctly (and believe me, this has become a problem), the Freshman Listings in the 50’s listed direct and indirect legs including: fathers, brothers, grand-fathers, great-grand-fathers, and uncles.

Whatever the mid-century list, it was more inclusive than now and did serve to perpetuate the sense of history and continuity which served Williams well for many years.

#4 Comment By frank uible On October 15, 2018 @ 7:54 pm

If the Admissions Office cares so much about diversity, then they should draw their admits out of a hat.