Legacy Admissions at Carleton

31 August 2023

To the Carleton Community:

The June Supreme Court decision eliminating the use of race in the college admissions process has turned a spotlight on other aspects of the admissions process at highly selective colleges. In particular, the practice of considering an applicant’s “legacy” status—whether they have family members who previously attended the institution—has become a widespread subject of debate.

Today, I write to report that Carleton will no longer take an applicant’s legacy status into consideration when determining whether to offer them admission to the college. 

Legacy status has historically not played a significant role in decisions at Carleton. It has at times merited a slight advantage within a pool of academically qualified applicants, where other characteristics are generally comparable. 

Nevertheless, we recognize that in a highly competitive process, even a slight advantage can have an impact on outcomes. Our Community Plan for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity states a goal of increasing representation of historically underserved students at Carleton. The strategic plan that we are in the process of drafting now outlines strategies for improving access for students from a range of backgrounds, including first-generation students and students with high levels of financial need. 

We believe that our goal of expanding access makes this the right time to discontinue legacy preference.

This change in our admissions process will not prevent us from celebrating the presence in our community of many admitted students with family ties to Carleton. In recent years, somewhere between 6 and 9 percent of the class typically has a Carleton parent, with a higher percentage claiming another family affiliation. We have benefited greatly by having students who bring a deep history of family connection and a special understanding of Carleton traditions and culture. We expect that we will continue to welcome many such students to Carleton.

We do recognize that this change may be disappointing to alumni with children who will soon be reaching college age, especially alumni of color who are better represented in today’s parental cohorts than was the case decades ago. We hope that these families will continue to encourage their children to consider Carleton, knowing that each student’s academic accomplishments, co-curricular interests, personal qualities and life experience will be weighed equally in the admissions process. 

I am proud of the generations of Carls who have loved and supported this school over its 157-year history. There may be no greater mark of an alum’s deep connection to Carleton than their willingness to trust us to educate and nurture their own children. With this decision, we strive only to expand that impact, and to continue welcoming new families into our remarkable community of Carls for generations to come. 

President Alison Byerly

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