Here at Harvard’s Office of Admissions, we have some very exciting news for you. While your SAT scores and grade point average fall below the threshold for acceptance to Harvard’s class of 2012, your Harvard parents’ dogged participation in our annual fund-raising appeals — including their generous contributions to Harvard’s recombinant DNA lab and IMAX theater — have gained you admission to a unique new program called LegacyPlus™.There's more than a grain of truth here. Earlier in the decade, The Crimson's Dan Rosenheck documented Harvard College's "Z List," which the admissions office strenuously denied was a legacy list. Rosenheck did some digging, and found otherwise:
With LegacyPlus™, you, the Harvard double legacy, will enjoy all of the perks of students who actually got into Harvard — except for the education part.
... If you talk to enough of these students whom the admissions office makes a special effort to bring to Cambridge, you’ll find they do have something in common: Their parents went to Harvard.Daniel Golden was even more critical in his special feature in the inaugural issue of 02138:
The Crimson obtained information about the legacy status of 36 of the approximately 80 Z-list students at Harvard in 2001-02. Though McGrath Lewis insists the Z-list is “not a legacy list,” 26—or 72 percent of the 36-student sample—were legacies, compared with 12 to 14 percent of the class as a whole.
Even if none of the remaining 44 or so Z-list students were legacies, 33 percent of the 80 students would be legacies—still well above the proportion of legacies in the class as a whole.
College counselors at Harvard’s feeder schools—high schools that routinely send large numbers of students to the College—are nearly unanimous in characterizing the Z-list as Harvard’s preferred conduit for qualified legacy candidates who don’t make the first cut.
Harvard actually has different levels of legacy preference, systematically and in some ways elaborately distorting its standards on behalf of a certain group. While children of middle-class alumni enjoy a modest edge, which may be heightened somewhat if the parents volunteer to interview applicants or organize reunions, the offspring of major donors receive in effect double preference - both as legacies and "development cases," whose admission is considered vital to fundraising. They fly first-class through Harvard admissions, often enjoying personal interviews with Fitzsimmons and slots on the exclusive "Z" list, which ushers in, via a one-year deferment, well-connected but often academically borderline applicants.(Golden also wrote a book on this topic, see Harvard College and the children of America's elite).
This is one area where the Harvard Extension School's undergraduate ALB program holds a definite edge over the College. Family alumni status and wealth have no impact on admissions, and neither do standardized tests. The only thing that will get you into the program are several semesters of dedicated study and good grades. In other words, it's a meritocracy.