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The Milton Measure

The Case of the Legacy

by Aeshna Chandra on Monday, September 30th, 2013

Being judged by one’s family name is not always a good thing, especially when its flaws, foibles, and history tag along at every step. Yet, in a community like Milton, being a legacy student – having relatives, not siblings, that also attended Milton – holds a certain stigma of not being worthy enough of Milton by oneself. This judgment may be occasionally true; some legacies could be accepted into Milton based almost entirely on their heritage, not on their individual character. But it is also possible that these very same people with legacies would have gotten into Milton without familial influence, accepted solely on their merits. While the system of admitting students based only on family history with Milton is flawed, removal of this system would not automatically disqualify any students whose family members have attended Milton in the past.
The Milton website put the fraction of students with legacy ties to the Academy at 40% a few years back, presumably including “sibling legacies” in this number. Sibling legacies are very common and quite justifiable from the perspective of the school. Not only do they help foster a greater sense of community, but the school will likely attract siblings of current students who are similarly qualified for admission.

Most would perhaps argue that legacy students are not admitted based solely on their talents, but rather that being a legacy gives a clear leg up in the competition for admission. Students of alumnae will be inherently drawn to applying to Milton because of their parents’ knowledge about and passion for the school, so a high level of legacy applicants would not be uncommon for a prep school such as ours. Lastly, given the average SAT score of 2062 for a Milton Academy student, considerably above the average of 1842 for the top 30 boarding schools according, even if legacies are being admitted regardless of intelligence, it does not seem to have brought down the school’s standards.

Opponents of the “legacy” institution would say that more worthy students, children of people who have had no prior relation with Milton, are less likely to be noticed, because their competition involves children from families with decades of history with Milton. They might even say that Milton accepts legacies primarily for the guaranteed donation and tuition money, choosing these fee-paying students over giving financial aid to new students. In addition, some alumnae are members of the Board of Trustees or otherwise involved with Milton, all but forcing the school to let in the relatives of these alumnae. In a perfect world, these students would be let in, or not admitted, based on their own qualifications, without any notice given to their family. Yet, if such data can be found at prestigious colleges, what about prestigious boarding schools with a long history of turning out individuals who are successful enough to send their kids to their alma mater?

A system in which students, disregarding intelligence, talents, and skills, or a lack thereof, are admitted to Milton because their parents went here is not ideal. But a system in which students are actively rejected based on their surname in favor of students with no relation to the Academy is also not fair to anyone involved. A system that would advocate equality opportunity in the admissions process for any applicant regardless of their family name would probably admit these legacies again on the basis of their own gifts.

Legacy status does not automatically make one stupid. It does not make one somehow less worthy of being at Milton than another student. Every single student at Milton has something to qualify his or her being here: if a student were not ready or worthy of going to Milton, grades would quickly prove it true. The system should be more merit-based, true, but even if it were, most of the legacies would still have gotten in. Being a legacy may give an extra push to one’s application, but it does not guarantee admission.

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Posted by Aeshna Chandra on Sep 30 2013. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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