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Admission Preferences for Minority Students, Athletes, and Legacies at Elite Universities


  • *Support for this research has been provided by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Center Core Grant P30 HD32030. We are grateful to Elana Broch, James Snow, Kristen Turner, and Chengzhi Wang for bibliographic assistance. Kalena Cortes, Sara Curran, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Lauren Hale, Stephen LeMenager, Germán Rodríguez, Christopher Weiss, Charles Westoff, and especially Joyce Jacobsen and Mark Long contributed many useful suggestions.

Thomas J. Espenshade, Office of Population Research, 249 Wallace Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-2091 tje@Princeton.Edu


Objective. This study examines how preferences for different types of applicants exercised by admission offices at elite universities influence the number and composition of admitted students.

Methods. Logistic regression analysis is used to link information on the admission decision for 124,374 applications to applicants' SAT scores, race, athletic ability, and legacy status, among other variables.

Results. Elite universities give added weight in admission decisions to applicants who have SAT scores above 1500, are African American, or are recruited athletes. A smaller, but still important, preference is shown to Hispanic students and to children of alumni. The athlete admission “advantage” has been growing, while the underrepresented minority advantage has declined.

Conclusions. Elite colleges and universities extend preferences to many types of students, yet affirmative action—the only preference given to underrepresented minority applicants—is the one surrounded by the most controversy.