Finals Edition: Legacy status an added bonus for college students

By Chris Puzia / Staff Writer

When Jamie Cooper was applying to colleges, she had a decision to make: whether or not she would consider Pitt simply because her family’s two preceding generations attended the school.

Pitt accepted her application, and she enrolled at Pitt over her other top choice, Virginia Tech. While her family encouraged her decision, she didn’t feel pressured to attend her father’s alma mater. 

“My parents were pretty cool about it,” said Cooper, a freshman engineering major. “They didn’t pressure me, but I felt in the back of my mind that if I chose Pitt, it would make them happier.”

Cooper is just one of many students who faced the decision during the college application process whether to apply and attend one of their family member’s alma maters. For some, legacy could factor into the admissions and enrollment process as well as joining Greek life.

While some students feel pressure from their families to consider their own future alma maters, not all of them take it into account when making the decision.

For Cooper, her parents didn’t influence her as vigorously as her grandparents did.

“My grandparents were so gung ho about Pitt,” she said. “I felt like if I applied here, it would please my grandparents. It wasn’t at the top of my list at first, but I still am glad I applied.”

Much of the consideration also depends on geography. 

Cooper’s grandparents on her father’s side grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and her paternal grandfather was a professor at Pitt, drawing her father in to attend the University. While Cooper grew up in Baltimore, much of her family still had ties to Pitt.

“So many people came here,” she said. “Aunts and uncles and great uncles. We visited here a lot when I was a kid, so it kind of became a familiar home away from home.”

Many high school students apply to their parents’ alma maters because of the advantage that admissions offices grant legacy students.

Marc Harding, chief enrollment officer at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said he thinks legacy can give a candidate a “plus factor,” but not a singular qualifier for admission. Academic achievement, Harding said, is the most important factor.

“If two students have similar characteristics, and one is a legacy, that is a plus factor, and we consider that,” he said.

Harding said the review board that oversees applications doesn’t differentiate between whether an applicant’s parents or grandparents attended Pitt. He added that the board considers the legacy factor, while ambiguous, more to separate similarly qualified candidates than to grant an advantage to someone who does not deserve admission.

Nicholas Weltz also came to Pitt as a legacy student, but through a different path. Weltz enrolled at SUNY-Stony Brook in New York his freshman year, but decided to transfer to Pitt, where both of his parents and his maternal grandparents attended. 

“I almost chose to go to Virginia Tech, mostly to be with my girlfriend at the time, a decision my parents were disappointed with,” Weltz, a junior political science major, said in an email.

“They heavily pushed for me to reconsider and go to Pitt,” he said. “The school has a certain sentimental value to me because of my family’s long-standing connection to it.”

Harding said admitted legacy students are more likely to enroll in their parent’s alma mater once accepted when compared to most students. 

“Children of legacies definitely yield a higher rate of enrollment than nonlegacies,” Harding said. “There are students who do not want to go where mom or dad went from day one. But if a student was brought up around Pitt from day one, it makes more sense that they would enroll as well.”

Weltz agreed that his parents influenced his decision regarding where to transfer, but with entirely supportive intentions.

“It helped being raised from birth on Pitt football games and basketball,” Weltz said in an email. “I’d be an idiot to say that applying and eventually coming here wasn’t influenced by my family having gone as well.”

In addition to simple parent legacies, some students choose where they go because of a parent legacy in a particular sorority or fraternity.

Samir Daouk, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, said there are cases when students rush the same fraternity or sorority as their parents.

“It’s true that many guys try to follow the family legacy, but every case is circumstantial,” Daouk, a sophomore majoring in economics, said. “Sometimes the organization at one institution may have a different chemistry than another.”

Daouk added that for many students, the main consideration is chemistry rather than legacy.

“No matter what affiliation you may have with any organization, it’s always best to go to several different rush events and find where you fit in best,” he said.

For Stephanie Schaller, a legacy of Delta Zeta, her mother’s membership in the same sorority in college influenced her decision.

“Because I am very close with my mother, I definitely took her affiliation with DZ into account when I was choosing between three sororities,” said Schaller, a junior majoring in accounting.

Schaller said that outside pressure sometimes contributes to whether someone receives a bid, but added that regardless of legacy, sororities should allow for an equal playing field.

“I think legacies should be given the same consideration as nonlegacies,” she said. “But because of pressure from nationals [national sorority offices], they are given preferential consideration.”

While having a parent legacy in a fraternity helps a pledge’s chances of receiving a bid, Daouk said it will not automatically guarantee one.

“It’s not necessarily a guarantee, but it definitely can help,” he said. “Being affiliated with someone who has been a part of a fraternity’s tradition can help shape them into an ideal member for that organization.”