Virginia Tech Ends Legacy Admissions

Virginia Tech will no longer consider a student's family connections to the university when making an admissions decision, joining a growing push against legacy admissions.
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Published on August 9, 2023
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  • Virginia Tech will no longer use legacy admissions.
  • The move away from legacy admissions follows the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to bar race-conscious college admissions.
  • Advocates have since challenged legacy admissions as violating the Civil Rights Act.
  • Virginia Tech will also end its early decision admissions option, although students will still be able to apply for early action.

Virginia Tech joined a growing number of colleges in ending legacy admissions, school officials announced July 28, adding to a nationwide push against the practice of favoring children of alumni.

"We've placed less and less emphasis on legacy in recent years, to the point that it's not factoring into admissions decisions in any significant way, and yet our legacy numbers have remained really strong," Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management at Virginia Tech, said in a press release.

"While around 12 percent of our applications are legacy, they comprise over 20 percent of the incoming class. This demonstrates that legacy students are applying with all the academic and extracurricular preparation that they need to compete for admission."

The decision to end legacy admissions comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against race-conscious admissions policies, a blow to campus diversity efforts that will likely lead to lower college enrollment numbers among Black and Hispanic/Latino/a students.

In the wake of that decision, advocates have challenged legacy admissions practices at elite schools, arguing high-power institutions are unfairly favoring the children of alumni over students of color.

The Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network filed a federal civil rights complaint against Harvard, alleging legacy admissions violate the Civil Rights Act and amount to "a discriminatory practice of giving preferential treatment in the admissions process to applicants with familial ties to wealthy donors and alumni ('legacy applicants')."

"Harvard's practice of giving a leg-up to the children of wealthy donors and alumni — who have done nothing to deserve it — must end," Michael Kippins, a litigation fellow at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said when the lawsuit against Harvard was announced last month. "This preferential treatment overwhelmingly goes to white applicants and harms efforts to diversify."

Now barred from considering race in admissions, Virginia Tech officials plan to focus on support programs to reach historically underserved students.

"Much of our recent success in attracting and graduating students from underrepresented minority and underserved backgrounds (including low-income, first generation and veteran students) has been achieved by lowering barriers to admissions, creating effective pre-college programs, and supporting our students while on campus," Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in the release.

"We will increase our emphasis on those programs and support mechanisms going forward."

Virginia Tech isn't the only school to end legacy admissions: Wesleyan University also ended the practice following the Supreme Court decision.

Virginia Tech will also end its early decision deadline in favor of moving up its early action deadline. Unlike early decision admissions, early action doesn't require students to commit to attending the school.

Students with greater financial need struggled to lock in their commitment to a college much earlier than normal because they couldn't fully weigh their options, Espinoza said.

"The previous expectation in the early decision plan that students lock in their commitment to Virginia Tech well before the regular decision deadline was not a good option for all of our applicants, particularly those needing financial aid, and created unneeded pressure on students," Espinoza said in the release.

"By eliminating early decision, we are simplifying our application process and also leveling the playing field for all students, regardless of their household income."

A 2021 Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) report found college "early decision" deadlines often give an advantage to wealthier students and that historically underserved students often aren't aware of those deadlines or don't have the resources to decide on college early in their senior year.

Other schools have taken a different approach to revamping early action policies. Wake Forest University, for example, opted to create a specific early action option for first-generation students in a bid to give students more flexibility as they make their college choice.