Children from wealthy families have a higher chance of admission to prestigious universities, even if their academic performance is not superior.

Children from wealthy families have a higher chance of admission to prestigious universities, even if their academic performance is not superior.

Wealth and Legacy Admissions: Examining the Disparity in Ivy Plus College Admission


A new study by Opportunity Insights, a group of Harvard-based economists, has shed light on a significant disparity in Ivy Plus college admissions. The study reveals that children of the top 1% of income earners are more than twice as likely to be admitted to these prestigious institutions, despite performing no better on standardized tests than students from other income groups. This revelation has sparked a debate about the role of wealth and legacy in the college admissions process.

The Ivy Plus Advantage

Ivy Plus refers to the eight Ivy League colleges (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, UPenn, Princeton, and Yale), along with Stanford, MIT, Duke, and the University of Chicago. These institutions have always been revered for their academic rigor and outstanding reputation. However, the study exposes a significant bias towards admitting students from the top 1% of income earners.

According to the study, approximately 40% of the wealthiest students with SAT or ACT scores in the 99th percentile are admitted to Ivy Plus colleges. This is double the rate of their equally qualified but poorer peers and four times that of middle-income students. Such preferential treatment of wealthy students raises questions about the fairness and equity of the admissions process.

Factors Contributing to the Discrepancy

The research identifies several factors that contribute to the discrepancy in admissions. One prominent factor is the preference given to legacy students, who are the children of alumni. The study reveals that these legacy students are more likely to be admitted to Ivy Plus colleges, regardless of their academic qualifications. This practice perpetuates existing wealth and privilege, further widening the gap between the rich and the rest.

Additionally, the study found that wealthy students often receive higher non-academic ratings during the admissions process. These ratings, based on various factors such as extracurricular activities and personal qualities, play a significant role in the final admission decision. The higher ratings received by wealthy students may be a result of the opportunities and resources available to them, potentially disadvantaging students from lower-income backgrounds.

Moreover, the study highlights that well-to-do students are more likely to be recruited as student-athletes. While athletics can be an avenue for talented individuals to gain admission, the overrepresentation of affluent students in this category further skews the admissions process in favor of the wealthy.

The Influence and Impact of Ivy Plus Colleges

Although Ivy Plus colleges enroll only a small fraction of American students, their influence is substantial. The study reveals that Ivy Plus graduates account for 15% of individuals in the top 0.1% income distribution, a quarter of US Senators, half of all Rhodes scholars, and three-fourths of Supreme Court justices appointed in the last half-century. These statistics demonstrate the disproportionate power and privilege that Ivy Plus graduates possess, further emphasizing the significance of addressing the disparity in admissions.

Shift in Focus: Wealth and Legacy Admissions

The study’s findings coincide with a recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended race-based affirmative action in college admissions. With this avenue closed, attention is now turning towards wealth and legacy admissions and their impact on inequality. Lawmakers and civil rights groups are increasingly scrutinizing the role of wealth and privilege in college admissions.

In fact, on July 1st, the US Department of Education launched a federal civil rights probe against Harvard University. The investigation alleges that the university favors legacy students in their admission process. This move further highlights the growing concern surrounding the influence of wealth and legacy in college admissions.


The study by Opportunity Insights has exposed a significant disparity in Ivy Plus college admissions, revealing that children of the top 1% of income earners are more than twice as likely to be admitted to these prestigious institutions. The analysis points to a bias towards legacy students, higher non-academic ratings for wealthy applicants, and an overrepresentation of affluent students as contributing factors to this disparity.

The influence and impact of Ivy Plus colleges reach far beyond their student populations. As these institutions produce leaders in various fields, it becomes imperative to address the unequal opportunities afforded to students based on their wealth and familial connections.

As the focus shifts from race-based affirmative action to wealth and legacy admissions, a critical examination of the admissions process is crucial to ensure a fair and equitable higher education system. Only through addressing these disparities can we hope to create a more just society that provides equal opportunities for all.