Art by Thea Phillips

The Paly-to-Stanford Pipeline: student legacy affects Stanford admissions

Stanford University admits only 1,757 annually. Yet, an average of 10 students from PAUSD are admitted every year, far above the national average.

Rather than boasting an intrinsic advantage over other students around the U.S., PAUSD students have access to resources, educational opportunities and the highly debated college legacy.

College legacy refers to universities favoring children of alumni in the admissions process, a process that has raised ethical concerns among students and equity experts. Some say preferential legacy treatment reduces the merit of first-generation students while inflating the opportunities of already-privileged, usually wealthy, groups of people.

But junior Jonathan Liu disagrees.

“When it comes to inflating privileges, (legacy) makes such a small difference, it barely affects your admission,” Liu said.

In a Sept. 20 Campanile survey sent out through Schoology, 35% of 230 Paly students said they have a parent who attended Stanford University or an Ivy League school.

Sophomore Liesel Peterson, a sophomore with Stanford legacy, said the true benefit of legacy lies in access to more opportunities and resources from Ivy-educated parents than an advantage in the applicant pool.

“In all honesty, my grades are fairly average, so (legacy won’t) have a huge impact on me,” Peterson said. “But, I have more opportunities (than first-generation students).”

Peterson said her dad’s legacy will help her navigate college applications, a network she recognizes other students might not have.

“My dad knows how the admissions process works, so he’s able to help me,” Peterson said. “Someone who’s applying to Stanford as a first-generation student has to go into the process blind.”

While Peterson said she thinks preferential admissions are unethical, Liu said he thinks the legacy system benefits all students because it creates an incentive for alumni to donate. Liu said legacy donations help universities reach more students even though they don’t help legacy students get admitted.

Ann E. Kaplan, Senior Director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said donations can affect the financial aid process.

“(Donations) to (universities) are for scholarships more than any other purpose,” Kaplan said. “While such contributions remain among the smallest categories of gifts, representing 7.4% of the 2021 total, they can be transformative.”