Rich Kids Have An Even More Unfair Advantage In Getting Into College — And It Goes Far Beyond Legacy

A recently released study revealed the direct connection between having wealth and getting into college.

College campus & students graduating Pixabay / Pexels

A research study released on July 24, 2023, confirmed the inherent inequities of the college admissions process. The data analyzed by Opportunity Insights, a group of Harvard-based economists studying inequality, showcased the extreme advantages held by rich applicants in getting into elite colleges.

Rich students have a remarkably unfair advantage to getting into college, and it goes far beyond legacy admissions.

The study determined that “children from families in the top 1% are more than twice as likely to attend an Ivy-Plus college (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago) as those from middle-class families with comparable SAT/ACT scores.”


college campusPhoto: Pixabay / Pexels

Opportunity Insights based its research on federal records of college attendance and parental income taxes from 1999 to 2015, as well as standardized test scores from 2001 to 2015. The study also included anonymous, internal admissions assessments of at least three of the 12 colleges studied, which covered half a million applicants.


The study found that even when students had the same standardized test scores, the colleges were more likely to admit legacy students and athletes, and assigned private school students higher ratings when assessing applications.  

The New York Times reported that “if elite colleges had done away with the preferences for legacies, athletes and private school students, the children of the top 1 percent would have made up 10 percent of a class, down from 16 percent in the years of the study.”

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Elite colleges give preference to wealthy students, and in doing so, they uphold societal and economic systems that promote inequality.

As the study noted, “Leadership positions in the United States are held disproportionately by graduates of highly selective private colleges. Less than half of one percent of Americans attend Ivy-Plus colleges… Yet these twelve colleges account for more than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs, a quarter of U.S. Senators, half of all Rhodes scholars, and three-fourths of Supreme Court justices appointed in the last half-century.” 


There is an undeniable correlation between attending an elite college and holding a position of power in US society.

In the introduction to their study, Opportunity Insights detailed the questions they were attempting to answer— “Do highly selective private colleges amplify the persistence of privilege across generations by taking students from high-income families and helping them obtain high-status, high-paying leadership positions? Conversely, to what extent could such colleges diversify the socioeconomic backgrounds of society’s leaders by changing their admissions policies?”

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Photo: Polina Zimmerman / Pexels


Put simply, the study quantified what most Americans have known to be true all along: coming from a wealthy family directly increases someone’s chance of getting into an elite college.

The schools that were analyzed have a major influence on who maintains wealth and power in the US. They could easily admit lower-income students if they wanted to affect actual change, yet subverting inequity is clearly not their goal. The study laid bare the fact that these schools actively perpetuate the extreme social and economic stratification that plagues this country. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers societal issues, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.