Children of Amherst Alumni Will No Longer Be Given Preference When Applying, School Says

The children of Amherst College's former students will no longer be given preferential consideration for admission, the Massachusetts school announced Wednesday.

The move effectively halts a widely criticized practice, not limited to Amherst, in which potential students from wealthier families get an extra advantage in getting into the Massachusetts college, the Associated Press reported.

Amherst, a liberal arts college, said that it would look to establish a fairer admissions system and encourage diversity among its student body by ending the practice of so-called legacy admissions. In the institution of 1,700 students, children of Amherst alumni have made up 11 percent of incoming students in the past, AP reported.

But now, whether a prospective student's parent attended Amherst will not be considered during the admissions review. Amherst President Biddy Martin said that the change will increase the accessibility of an Amherst education to students who might not have the family connections or financial background that swayed decisions in the past.

"Now is the time to end this historic program that inadvertently limits educational opportunity by granting a preference to those whose parents are graduates of the college," Martin said in a statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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Children of Amherst College alumni have made up 11 percent of incoming students, but the school said it is ending the practice of preferential legacy admissions. Above, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) sits with Amherst College President Carolyn Arthur "Biddy" Martin during an appearance at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, on October 3, 2019. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

At selective colleges across the nation, it's common for children of alumni to be given an edge in the application process. Colleges defend the practice by saying it it encourages alumni to donate and is only used as a tiebreaker in close decisions.

But activists have called on colleges to end the practice in recent years, saying it reinforces class and racial inequities and creates an uneven playing field.

Amherst was among more than 30 schools targeted by a recent nationwide campaign to boycott donations from alumni until their schools end legacy admissions. Others targeted include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Stanford universities.

In making the change, Amherst joins a small but growing number of colleges that have dropped the practice. Last year, Johns Hopkins University announced it had ended the policy, and Colorado lawmakers banned it at public universities this year. Some prestigious schools say they have never given legacy preference, including at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Amherst said it's also expanding its financial aid to help more students from lower- and middle-income families. About 60 percent of students are expected to get financial help, the college said, with the average household aid package estimated at $63,000.

The annual cost to attend the college is estimated at about $85,000, including tuition and other fees.

Matthew McGann, the school's dean of admission and financial aid, said he hopes more students will see Amherst as an option going forward. By dropping legacy admissions and boosting financial aid, he said, the college is confident it will see an increase in diversity among its applicants and ultimately on campus.

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The children of Amherst College’s former students will no longer be given preferential consideration for admission at the school. Susan Walsh/AP Photo