Proponents say special consideration for legacy applicants enhances loyalty among alumni; critics maintain that it gives some an unfair advantage.

The practice has been controversial for years. In the 2004 presidential campaign, President George W. Bush?a third-generation legacy himself?joked about following his father's footsteps to Yale University, but he and Senator John Kerry opposed legacy status as a factor in admissions.

Bowdoin and many other schools honor legacy status, considering it one of several "plus factors" that can tip the scales for applicants.

Interim Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Dick Steele said in an interview with the Orient that calling legacy applicants' families with bad news is not something he exactly enjoys.

"One of the most difficult things I have to do as a Dean of Admissions is to tell a loyal Bowdoin family that this is not the place for their son or daughter. I had to make quite a few of those painful calls this year," he said.

However, at least half of the legacies who apply to Bowdoin are accepted. According to Steele, for the Class of 2010, 51 percent of legacy applicants have been admitted so far versus 22 percent overall. For the classes of 2008 and 2009, 50 and 60 percent of legacy applicants were admitted, respectively.

Steele said such percentages can be misleading.

"Throughout the admissions process, we are very candid with alumni and other legacy families about a candidate's prospects for admission based on his or her academic credentials and other important factors," he said. "As a result, the legacies who actually choose to apply to Bowdoin tend to be very strong candidates for admission."

Steele said that because nearly half of this select group is not admitted provides "further evidence of the highly competitive admissions process at the College."

For the Class of 2010, Steele estimated that approximately eight percent will be legacies. For the Class of 2009, nine percent, or 44 students, were legacies and for the Class of 2008, legacies represented eight percent of the class, or 36 students.

A boost in the process

In an interview with the Orient, President Barry Mills said that legacy status does play a factor in admissions. Both he and Steele, however, emphasized that legacy status is just one of several elements that could "tip the scales."

"I think we have to be respectful and responsive to those people who have been loyal to this college, whether it is through service or financial support...If they have talented relatives, we will certainly pay attention to them," said Mills.

"Everybody who is here at the College is of value...The fact that somebody's parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters happened to go to Bowdoin is a factor that we look [at] in trying to decide who gets admitted to Bowdoin," Mills said. "But a [more important] question is: Are people talented enough to be at the College?"

Some legacy students said they believe their status may have helped them gain admission.

"I think that it definitely helped me get in," said Linzee Troubh '09, whose grandfather went to Bowdoin.

Nick Peddle '09, also a legacy student, said, "I think it's OK, because I'm here. But it probably sucks for whoever's spot I took."

Ethan Oberwager '09, a student with no previous ties to Bowdoin before applying, said he thinks a legacy status would have helped him in the admissions process.

"I applied early decision, and I got deferred?that wouldn't have happened if I [were] a legacy," he said.

Being a legacy can help a candidate gain admission, "but only if the student belongs here and can succeed," Steele said. He said to do otherwise would be "counterproductive" and "would hurt the student and the parents," and that if they were to admit applicants who were academically unprepared, they would hear quickly about it from the faculty.

Steele said that the most important factor in admitting a student to Bowdoin is his or her academic record. He also said there is no question that many of Bowdoin's most talented accepted students are sons and daughters of alumni.

Mills added, "The students we admit to Bowdoin are talented, and deserve to be at the College. We aren't in any respect admitting anybody to Bowdoin who isn't academically talented, and talented outside the classroom in many important ways."

Tradition and loyalty

An argument for using legacy status in admissions decisions is that more legacies may help preserve Bowdoin's sense of community and solidify loyalties among parents or grandparents who attended the College.

"Most colleges and universities would describe the members of their community as students, faculty, and staff," Steele said. "Here at Bowdoin our community also includes our alumni and parents. Our alumni are involved in a lot more than just support. They help us in admissions, and in career services and in many other ways. Assuming their daughters and sons are well qualified, I think it is very appropriate for the alumni tie to tip the scales."

Pack Janes '09, whose father attended Bowdoin, said he thinks giving legacies any boost in the admissions process is "good for the College." He noted that his father was quite pleased to see him follow in his footsteps.

Troubh agreed, saying, "It was carry the tradition."

Portland native Chris Bixby '07, whose father, Ken, was in the Class of 1973, said he thinks giving qualified legacies a boost in admissions protects the community and its personality and helps carry on traditions.

"I looked at other schools of the same [caliber], but the personality drew me back [to Bowdoin]?I recalled coming to see hockey games with my dad when I was little," he said.

Ken Bixby said in a phone interview that he was not particularly active at Bowdoin when he was a student, nor has he been since he graduated; but he still has very strong emotions for the College and was thrilled to see his son come to Bowdoin.

He added, "When your kid gets into Bowdoin, it fulfills a huge emotional pride...It's not that he succeeded in getting into a place where I did, it's that I know he got into a place that was right for him."

"My other son goes to another school, and there is no possible way I can ever have the same emotion about this other school that I have no history with," said Ken Bixby. "Witnessing a son or daughter thrive at one's alma mater cannot help but magnify the bond that a parent feels for the school."

The father and sister of Henry Work '06 graduated from Bowdoin, but he said he's not certain that played a role in his being admitted. Still, he said, "We always joke that it didn't hurt."

Like Ken Bixby, Stewart Work '73, Henry's father, never pressured his children to attend Bowdoin, though he was very pleased they did. He added that he thinks it probably does not hurt to consider legacy status in admissions to a minor extent and that it is probably positive if it helps a school like Bowdoin decide among many applicants.

He said that Bowdoin has felt like three different colleges as he, his daughter, and now his son have gone to the College.

Sarah Bernheim '09, whose parents both went to Bowdoin, said, "I like to think I got into Bowdoin [independent] of my parents." She said while her parents were very happy, it was her choice to apply, knowing Bowdoin's reputation.

She said, "I think [giving a boost to legacy applicants] preserves Bowdoin's personality and that it helps with diversity because people with parents who went here have different perspective, too."


Steele and Mills both said that potential fundraising does not play a role in determining whether to admit legacy applicants.

"Frankly, we do not allow information about a family's financial situation to be entered into a student's application since we are eager to be need blind in the selection process," said Steele.

He added, "We have, over the years, admitted students whose families have the means to support Bowdoin financially. That support is very important to the College and to our current students, since tuition and fees cover only about half of Bowdoin's operating budget. But we have also admitted and provided financial aid to many first-generation college students who have gone on to be leaders around the world, and who support Bowdoin out of loyalty and gratitude."

Mills noted that generous donors have come from all different backgrounds and parts of the world.

"We've admitted a lot of people over the years who have been enormously generous to Bowdoin...It is very hard to predict who are going to be important donors to the College," he said.

Mills said he does not know of any studies that have been done at Bowdoin suggesting legacy admits will produce more money for the College, and, if there have been, he has not seen them.

Zachary Roberts '08 said he thinks the financial realities of accepting legacy students may make it "a tricky question."

"It may seem wrong in theory for a less worthy legacy student to usurp the admission of a more worthy candidate, and yet, in reality, if the admission of a legacy student will help the college's endowment, then it may be equally wrong to deny them, as the money they bring in can help to provide financial aid for a worthy candidate who may not otherwise be able to afford a Bowdoin education," he said.

Asked if accepting more legacy applicants can be justified because it may protect the endowment and thus provides more money for financial aid for those in need, Mills said, "No."

But some students think the main purpose for giving legacy applicants a push is financial.

"The school needs to get money...If you're a legacy and get in, they're hitting you up for money," said Matthew Schweich '09, who is not a legacy.

Evan Gallagher '06, whose father graduated with the Class of 1976 and whose brother recently was accepted as a transfer student after initially failing to get accepted when applying out of high school, said he thinks accepting more legacy students can help the College financially.

"People with a stronger connection to Bowdoin are more likely to donate," he said, adding that his relationship with the College will be stronger because his father went here and that he will donate more to the College because of it, as well as because his brother was accepted.

"If my brother didn't get in then I would donate less," said Gallagher.

A critical look

Even though Ken Bixby's son is a legacy at Bowdoin, he said he does not necessarily believe legacy status should be a factor in selecting one applicant over another. He said he did not think it would be fair.

Some students oppose any favoritism legacy applicants might receive in the admissions process, maintaining that legacy admissions tend to favor white, affluent students.

Emily Coffin '08 said, "I don't look favorably upon it...I just don't think it's very fair," explaining that legacy status as a "plus factor" puts students whose parents did not attend Bowdoin at a disadvantage.

"It's white man's affirmative action," said Kahlil Sharif '06.

Gallagher said he thinks the positives of giving preferential consideration to legacy applicants outweigh the negatives. He noted that while some students may say it leaves students out, that argument can be made for race in regards to affirmative action.

"I can say it's not my fault I'm not a different race," said Gallagher.

Steele said he thinks many of the stereotypes of legacy students are inaccurate.

"It is important to dispel stereotypes that describe legacies as the sons and daughters of privilege. Legacies at Bowdoin tend to be representative of our student body as a whole. Many are from Maine. Some are students of color. They are geographically diverse, as well," said Steele.

Mills said that if you look at the number of legacy students at Bowdoin, "Bowdoin is not out of balance with any other place in America, and in fact in some cases accepting a lower number of legacy students."

Assistant Professor and Chair of the Education Department Charles Dorn, who is currently teaching the senior seminar Civic Functions of Higher Education, said he thinks acting affirmatively in the literal sense of targeting certain groups such as Maine students can help promote the common good in creating a diverse student body. In regards to an applicant's legacy status, he said he would want to analyze the situation more before passing judgement.

"'Legacy' is, itself, a legacy of an era prior to our current period of significantly expanded access to higher education," Dorn said. "Before World War II, less than 10 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 attended colleges and universities in the United States. The nature of that applicant pool, and the fact that most students enrolled in regional institutions, dictated radically different admissions criteria and procedures than we have today."

He added, "The central question currently confronting colleges and universities is whether 'legacy' is an appropriate mechanism for admissions given that approximately 60 percent of that age group now compete for slots in first-year classes across the nation."

Chris Marotta and Joshua Miller contributed to this report.