Mrs. Pham starred in awed silence at the skyscrapers of San Francisco through the fingerprinted stained windows of the taxi headed to a relative’s apartment. She had left Vietnam hoping to achieve the “American Dream.” If her daughter could carve out a better future with a decent university education, she would gladly move halfway across the world.
Many immigrants typically strive for a comfortable life that can be achieved by attending a decent university. However, the odds are stacked higher against them. These disillusioned families aren’t only fighting against upper middle-class families with resources, but they are competing with legacy applicants — “legacies.” Colleges claim their admissions is based on meritocracy, but these higher education institutions give preference to those who are the children of wealthy alumni. By abolishing legacy admissions, the American system will be one step closer to a leveled playing field.
Instead of addressing legacies, the media covers the affirmative action case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard obsessively. This group alleges a concerted effort by elite universities to keep the percentage of admitted Asian Americans artificially low. The plaintiff shows admission officials giving low personality scores to Asian applications, using labels like “shy” or “boring,” playing into Asian American stereotypes.
Racial inequality is relevant, but the bigger issue lies in old wealth. In the early 20th century, more Jews gained admission into Harvard, scoring exceptionally high on standardized tests and having excellent GPAs. To preserve its elite nature, Harvard implemented legacy admissions. The policy’s origin incorporates race and ethnicity; however, the power that comes along with wealth is more influential. A hundred years back, it was the Jews, and now, it is the Asian Americans. The mainstream society can change its views on race, but the power of wealth doesn’t change.
Today, Harvard and other top universities explicitly consider legacy as part of their admission process. In a data set analyzed by Students for Fair Admissions from 2010-2015, Harvard admissions rate for legacies were 34% while regular applicants were 6%. Within the Ivy League schools, 10% to 20% of admitted students have parents who were alumni. To create a fairer admissions process, we must change the variables.
They want the students of wealthy, multi-generational alumni who are inclined to donate a generous amount of money. Imagine a ladder, where the goal is to reach the top. Non-legacy applicants with little financial resources are on the first rung, and the wealthy applicants are a few rungs higher — the richer you are, the higher up you start. The last rung before the top is reserved for those who not only have the money, but the connections. This is a rigged system that gives further advantage to already privileged applicants. The lineage of the inner circle is still prevalent today. Of the Harvard students, there are 23 times as many rich students as there are poor.
To justify Harvard’s wealth inequality, the school claims that the donations help keep financial aid programs afloat. To help low socioeconomic students, they need the money of high socioeconomic students. Harvard just returns the favor of the donating alumni by handing them the coveted “tip.” This whole transaction exposes the corruption of American society. If an applicant can get into college just by being born into a family with money and connections, it sets the precedent that the only way to reach an elite status in society is to buy your way in.
Equipped with money and status, these legacy students take over the campuses of elite universities, disputing the meritocricial foundation of American values. To ensure these values, we must strive for a diverse group of students on college campuses at Harvard and in schools across the country. To achieve this goal, we must first ban legacy admissions. This will not only be beneficial to immigrants like Mrs. Pham, the current wealthy alumni will prosper too. This new system will allow people who are qualified to attend college; therefore, these graduates will be the next workforce — possible employees of the alumni. A society that grows will only be attainable if a continuous stream of creative and intelligent people move into the workforce.
Cecilia Quan is a rising junior at San Mateo High School, residing in Foster City.