The Rapid Depreciation Of A Harvard Education: How Private School Grads Can Still Save Themselves

If you're thinking about applying to Harvard or the likes, reconsider. There's a rapid depreciation of a Harvard education and other elite private universities that is going on right now.

The people are revolting against the rich and connected, especially when so many people suffered during the pandemic. The Supreme Court case on eliminating affirmative action in college admissions at Harvard revealed how legacy students, donors, and certain races have a much higher acceptance percentage.

Now with the tragic Congressional testimony by Harvard President Claudine Gay that failed to denounce calling for the genocide of Jews plus all the plagiarism claims, Harvard's reputation has taken a big hit.

Claudine Gay ultimately stepped down, however, the damage was already done. The public witnessed her terrible leadership and the board that supporters her for months, despite her testimony and 50+ counts of plagiarism. Rightly or wrongly, many academics and observers believe Gay was unfit to be president and was a DEI hire during her short 6-month tenure.

If you go to Harvard or a similar elite university, or are a graduate of Harvard or a similar elite university, you should be disturbed. The school you worked so hard to gain entrance is ruining its own reputation.

Life After Public School

When I was applying to colleges in 1994, I thought only extremely smart or talented people attended Harvard. I had heard stories about the rich buying their kids' ways into Harvard, but I was unaware of the details until the bribery scandal.

As a public school kid with an OK SAT score, a 3.6 GPA, and unspectacular extracurricular activities (tennis team captain vs. eradicating malaria in a small village in West Africa), I decided to save myself hundreds of dollars in application fees and apply to mostly local state schools like UVA, Mary Washington, and William & Mary instead. Paying less than $3,000 a year in in-state tuition even back then felt like a steal.

Worked for the top investment bank

After graduating from William & Mary, I got a job in the international equities department at Goldman Sachs in NYC. That's where I got to interview hundreds of Ivy League and other elite private institution graduates as part of Goldman's consensus-driven interview process where even grunts get to interview candidates.

We ended up rejecting over 95% of the candidates due to poor fit. It wasn't that they were not smart, because they were. We only wanted people we could sit next to for 12-14 hours a day. It obviously helped if they had an international background, spoke multiple languages, and had a passion for equities. But we were mostly looking for great teammates.

Rejecting the majority of elite private college graduates made me realize they are no different from you and me. For the next 13 years, I'd compete with these folks on the ruthless battlegrounds of finance and smash them to bits most of the time because of my hunger. 

Coming from a non-target public school background with middle-class parents, I wasn't going to squander my opportunity for financial independence.

Trying to be beholden to nobody

Today, I am a small business owner with business owning friends. Recently, some of us have noted a growing negativity towards alumni of elite private schools. This is a problem (or a solution) for parents who plan to spend lots of money starting in grade school in the hopes their kid will attend a school like Harvard. Some alumni are unfairly judged by the masses.

If you are one of these alumni, don't be upset about the trend against the 1%. Instead, read with an open mind and pay attention as your future or your kids' future might depend on it.

This article will address:

1) Why there is a growing negative perception about private university graduates

2) What we've learned from the Harvard / Asian-American discrimination lawsuit

3) What you can do to fight back against the negative perception

The Harvard / Asian-American Discrimination Lawsuit

One of the reasons Harvard University fought so hard to keep its admissions process a secret was because it didn't want the world to judge it for how it picked winners and losers. Due to social media and the internet, they knew that the jury of public opinion would come down on them like a guillotine.

Here are some interesting things we've learned so far from the Asian-American discrimination lawsuit against Harvard:

~5.9% overall acceptance rate (all students)

~33.6% acceptance rate for legacy (67% of students are not legacy)

~40% acceptance rate for children of donors

~70%+ if both legacy and donor

~86% if recruited athlete

Rich And Connected

Think about these statistics for a bit. If you are simply born into a family where one of your parents or grandparents went to Harvard, you have a 5X greater chance of getting a Harvard education than someone who has no legacy status.

One can argue legacy admissions help create a stronger university culture, and that there should be some preference. Maybe a 1X boost to 11.8% would be fair. But a 5X preference seems excessive, even if the children of alumni have more resources like $3,000 SAT tutoring afforded to them.

Meanwhile, if you donate money to Harvard, which already has the world's largest university endowment at over $35 billion, your child's acceptance rate chances go up by 7X the average admissions rate. How is that considered bribing your kid's way to get a Harvard education?

How Much To Buy Your Way Into Harvard

Based on intimate conversations I've had with a Harvard undergraduate and business school alum who also was on their fundraising committee for a couple years, between 2000 – 2010, you could donate between $250,000 – $500,000 and effectively help give your child a 7X advantage. Today, he says the donation figure is “in the millions.”

Now imagine you are a legacy candidate whose parents are also rich enough to donate millions of dollars to Harvard. You've got a 12X greater chance of getting into Harvard than some smart kid with great extracurricular activities whose parents are not as rich or connected enough to help. You are practically a shoe-in.

This is not a meritocracy by any means. This is affirmative action for the rich and connected – the very people who need the least amount of help. 

Gaining entrance into Harvard is rigged. Here's an Asian-American's perspective on affirmative action. Despite only accounting for ~7% of the population, Asians are considered a minority under the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ideology.

Getting Harder To Get In

Another interesting thing we've learned from the Harvard / Asian-American lawsuit is that the overall acceptance rate at Harvard and other Ivy League institutions was much higher in the past.

For example, Harvard admitted 92.4% of applicants for the class of 1941 (1,092/1,182) while 14.6% were admitted for the class of 1992. (~2,107/14,430 with 1,605 enrollees.) Related: The Chosen

In other words, it should be more impressive if you are a younger Harvard alumnus than if you are an older Harvard alumnus.

With the number of international students applying to US universities growing, it's only natural to expect the acceptance rate to continue shrinking despite the reality that education via the internet is now free.

In other words, the overall madness of paying enormous sums of money for a depreciating pedigree continues unabated. However, I believe this situation will eventually change, at least here in America. Based on the median income of Ivy League graduates, a Harvard education is overvalued.

Harvard Acceptance Rate History

But What About The Brightest Students?

We should all accept that Harvard and other private institutions have the right to craft their classes however they see fit. After all, as private citizens, we have the right to apply to wherever we want.

However, Harvard and other private institutions should at least acknowledge they use race, legacy, money, and athletics as determinant factors in their subjective crafting of an incoming class. To tell the world they they do not discriminate against Asian-Americans is an insult to our intelligence. They should own their decisions to discriminate with pride!

Harvard Admissions Rate By Category - Depreciation of a private school education
Source: Harvard, WSJ

But the real fallout may rain on those private university graduates who actually have no legacy connections and no donor parents. The majority who simply got in due to merit.

Further, what about the legacy and/or donor graduates who may have been able to get into Harvard without receiving massive, non-merit based advantages? They are being unfairly sullied.

Finally, what about the private school graduates who are simply just wonderful people who pay their taxes, give back to society, fight for equal rights, work at helpful jobs, and are just doing their best everyday to provide for their families?

Given they mostly end up doing the same work as you an me, it doesn't seem right for them to get railroaded by the public.

A Decline In Private School Reputation

As the reputations of such private universities decline with the wider understanding of how the system works, there is one clear solution to help the most deserving private university graduates:

Clearly state on your resume or job application: not a legacy or a donor graduate.

By clearly stating you got no help from what society hates most about the aristocracy, you distinguish yourself and enhance your accomplishment. A Harvard education is becoming toxic in some circles.

You may feel that highlighting you are not a legacy and not a donor might come across as too forward. It will, especially if the hiring manager comes from a private university whose parents did donate and go to such a university.

SAT score for admitted students by race at Harvard

Hiding Your Pedigree As A Strategy

This is why you must do background checks on your interviewers before making your case. Faced with a legacy or donor interviewer, consider not highlighting your merit.

It is also possible the privileged hiring manager wants to help you out because s/he feels guilt for gaining such an unfair advantage. There are people who continuously struggle with their privilege, unable to discern whether it was their talent or their parents that helped them get to where they are.

Given words matter, perhaps this is an even better way to highlight your merit on your resume: first generation XYZ university alumnus. By definition, if you were the first, you are not a legacy. Although this doesn't solve any suspicions of you getting ahead through massive financial gifts by your parents.

Given only ~40% of Americans have a 2-year college degree or more, less than 1% of all Americans will have attended elite private school universities.

In other words, a supermajority is on your side so do not be afraid to stand up for meritocracy! 

More and more public universities will rank higher than private universities. The reason is because the ranking methodologies are changing. Rankers of universities are considering diversity and inclusion much more, especially since universities give so much lip service to diversity and inclusion.

The Gatekeepers Agree

As a small business owner, I want to hire the most collaborative, smartest, efficient, and hungriest person available. I do not care where you went to college. There is no room for nepotism in small business because the financial buffers are too thin not to hire the best.

All I care about is your attitude. Are you willing to learn and get things done? If so, excellent. Are you going to be a prima-donna pain in my side? Or are you going to stay hungry and keep on hustling?

If I can find an Ivy League graduate with such attributes who got in 100% due to merit, I'm going to hire that type of person all day long, all else being equal. But if I can't, then I will have to be more thorough in my interview and search process.

I've spoken with a couple friends who both employ over a hundred people, and one friend who employs over 3,000 people about the Harvard lawsuit.

They all actively welcome graduates of elite private universities to somehow signal they are not legacy or donors. Two went to public university, while one went to an elite private university, but didn't rely on money or connections.

Change Is On Its Way

Old money industries, like banking, private equity, venture capital, money management, and management consulting, are filled with elite private school alumni who will continue to have their biases, so tread carefully. Don't lose your mind trying to get a Harvard education or highlight you have a Harvard education.

But new money industries like tech and biotech are extremely focused on meritocracy. Over time, I'm confident old money industries will slowly remove their biases as well, starting by casting a wider recruiting net beyond specific private universities.

One of the end goals of going to college is to get as good a job as possible. If the gatekeepers are changing the way they hire, you best believe universities will change the way they accept students.

Related: Industries That Can Pay More Than $1 Million A Year

The Long-Term Trend Is Away From The Elites

The people are angry at the elites

In order live an easier life, you must recognize trends and adapt. Despite the massive accumulation of wealth by the rich in the latest bull market, the long-term trend is turning sour against the wealthiest people in our country who've received the most benefits.

The internet democratizes knowledge and access. Elite private university degrees will be no exception. The value of a college education will decline as a result.

Nobody wants to help the rich and powerful get more rich and powerful anymore because nobody roots for the armored gladiator with a sword versus a naked gladiator fighting with only his bare hands. Further, more people will be empowered to create their own fortunes through entrepreneurship or freelancing.

Some of the rich and powerful are clinging on to elite education as the last bastion of the aristocracy while the commoners are using battering rams to break down the gates.

Recommendation For Harvard And Other Elite Private School Alumni

If you will be or are an alumnus of Harvard or other similar institution, I encourage you to do the following:

1) Don't voluntarily tell anybody where you went to college. If people ask, talk about the state or city where you went to school and then quickly change the topic.

2) Stay humble. Instead of talking about your wins, discuss your struggles. People already assume you have everything. A Harvard education is becoming a negative signal in society.

3) Build your giving resume (time and money). Eventually, people will find out about you. And if they realize you've received all this help while you've done little-to-nothing to give back, you will be skewered. Besides, helping other people is the greatest gift on earth.

4) Stop working at companies that create useless products or take excessive advantage of minimum wage laborers. Don't let your education and family wealth go to waste. If you're oblivious, you'll know once you see your company being questioned on the news about their labor practices.

5) Let your kids earn their way through life. One of the worst things you can do is take away your kid's sense of pride and accomplishment by giving them everything. Let your kids deserve what they've earned.

In Search For True Meritocracy

Harvard admissions by race
Source: Harvard. Compare the top decile percentages to the actual share of admitted class

Nobody should blame parents for giving their kids every advantage possible to get ahead. Meanwhile, no kid should be blamed for receiving every advantage possible either. They have no control over their parents.

There are plenty of fantastic people who graduate from elite private schools. Let's just not fool ourselves into thinking there aren't extreme biases in the system that put the majority of people at a competitive disadvantage.

We will never have a true meritocracy. The only thing I've found that comes close is being a solopreneur. But we can take steps to help even the playing field by fighting for our beliefs. It would be foolish to ignore the uprising.

As an Asian-American with no private school pedigree and no multi-millions to give, I've decided to keep Financial Samurai running as insurance until my little boy grows up and tells me he wants nothing to do with learning about or running a location-independent small business. I have a suspicion, like many starry-eyed young adults, he'll enter the world thinking all is fair and right in the world. Then reality hits.

Update About Harvard's Declining Reputation

Since publication, I've spoken to a dozen high schoolers whose parents went to some of the top universities and the consensus is that they have as much anxiety and stress about getting into these universities as everyone else. They are keenly aware of how competitive entrance is for everyone and being a legacy does not give them comfort. They are aware of students who have parents and grandparents who have donated mega millions they have to compete with.

Harvard reported it got $8.9 million Paychecks Protection Program meant to support small businesses hurting during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, Harvard laid off all its employees and has a $40 billion endowment. Harvard getting $8.9 million in financial help seems absurd, and only hurts its reputation as an elitist institution who is taking advantage of the system.

Harvard's reputation is hurt. Early applications are down 17% in 2023. Alumni are withholding over $1 billion in donations.

Do you still want a Harvard education? Probably. Just be aware going to such a university may not be as beneficial or as great as you had hoped.

Related posts:

The Case Against Meritocracy: Abolishing The Entrance Exam

Three White Tenants, One Asia Landlord: Doing What Asians Can To Survive

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86 thoughts on “The Rapid Depreciation Of A Harvard Education: How Private School Grads Can Still Save Themselves”

  1. Dear Sam,

    I am a first generation Japanese American who grew up in rural Ohio in the 70’s. I can certainly relate to this article as I experienced racial discrimination throughout my childhood. Given my background, it was very difficult getting my first job as employers assumed that I do not speak English. Equipped with a MS in Computer Science with a 4.0 GPA from a second tier school, I could only land 2 interviews. I received offers from both companies and settled on Price Waterhouse in NYC as a Computer Consultant where I was an anomaly as the only Asian professional.

    I ran a business for 15 years before moving to Singapore to look for work. Sam, I think you are thinking of going back to work. Your assumptions about employers impression of business owners is correct. I had this exact challenge. You can turn your disadvantage to an advantage by addressing all the objections that they may have. You are successful because you have this exact skill. Successful business owners understands what the customer wants.

  2. As a parent of a current Harvard student, I found this article very interesting. My child is part of the 86% acceptance rate group. Even so, it required a 4.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale, 33 ACT, and above average SAT scores to get “accepted” as an athlete. A non-athlete would not even have a remote chance at acceptance with these numbers.

    We are a middle-class midwest family with both parents being the first generation public university graduates. It was a very tough decision to go with Harvard due to the high costs vs. scholarship offers from midwest public universities. But after multiple discussions with some Harvard graduates, it became an easier choice. These people were all very successful in our area and all basically said the same thing as someone else in the responses. “Friends will get you places your resume never will” and you will meet friends with connections at Harvard that you would never meet anywhere else. Some other things they all mentioned are also things that you point out in your article. (be someone who others want to be around, you are an athlete at Harvard, you are not a legacy or donor, you come from a middle-class family, you grew up in the midwest)

    So to answer your questions:
    Readers, do you think the reputations of elite private schools will decline once the world knows exactly how rigged the admissions system is?
    NO. If you are foolish enough to believe that the admission system is not rigged in some way at EVERY Private and Public university then I have some swampland in Florida I would like to sell ya.

    How would you advise graduates who weren’t beneficiaries of donor legacy to standout?
    Just be yourself. Let potential employers know you were not a legacy.

    Why don’t private institutions own the fact they use race, money, and legacy to craft their class now that the information is out there?
    Why doesn’t every business/university/political party do the same? Do you really think that only private institutions use race, money and legacy to get the people they want?

    If you are a parent, what will you do to help your child get ahead?
    Pay for every cent of their education, regardless of where they choose to go. Both of my kids will have graduated from college with $0 student loan debt.

  3. My father told me this:

    “Friends will get you places your resume never will”

    Kids (and parents) who go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and don’t get this have wasted their money.

    The other thing that going to the top elites gives you is opportunity. Compare the venture capital funds availability at Stanford to UIUC…both are on par in terms of education for Computer Science and Engineering….

  4. Capitalist Parent

    Another stirring post. I recently took my niece on a tour of Boston schools and was horrified at the quoted numbers of applicants vs acceptance. Harvard’s rates are no different from many other Boston area universities of lesser acclaim who all announced numbers in the range of ~60K applicants and ~4K admissions (~6%) for the last school year.

    Based on the information you presented I won’t hesitate to encourage my child to attend my Alma Matter. Why not capitalize on my good fortune of sneaking in as a 1st generation college grad? In fact, my follow up question is if your kid is already a legacy student then how much is “enough” to be counted as a donor too? I would consider budgeting a small amount for annual donations if only to keep the door open for my child should he decide on higher education. If all of the folks above or silent readers in my same position aren’t seriously considering the same approach I would be surprised.

    However, I 100% agree with you that the ongoing trend for post education employment in most fields is not about where you went to school in so much as it is about the person you became because of where you went. The outrageous number of college grads in the US ensures that in most fields there is no longer a middle management or superior position available just because of the institution name on your diploma.

  5. I’m asian and so is my wife. Between the 2 of us, we’ve gone to top-15 non-ivy school, top-25 state school, average state school, and harvard for medical training. A family member, standout student, typically high-achieving asian extracurriculars got passed over by Harvard but ended up a prestigious non-ivy league anyway. It always seemed harvard is not necessarily looking for the best and brightest, but are interested in “personality” and “character”. Kids with more interesting backgrounds or ethnicities, who weren’t as elite got into harvard over my family member. Sure there was bitterness, but that’s life and I didn’t think it was that unknown that Harvard selects students like that. Having said that, I also don’t really agree with asians being so upset over this. At least amongst those I know, it’s harvard or bust for asian families, they’re overly obsessed with it, superficially so. Get over it. Lots of asians are high-achievers, extra-curriculars, etc. but they’ve become so common that’s it’s boring. And personally a lot of asians are rather bland, partially due to their upbringing, focus on academics, and personality, which makes great students, workers and citizens, but maybe less interesting, which isn’t wrong either. I think society would be better off with more of this asian mentality.

    Having said all that, I think the college you go to is getting less and less important these days. Sure, there are those who went ivy league that tout it, but outside of the ivory tower, no one really cares anymore. I care more about who you are, what you’ve done (besides go harvard) and what you can do. Between the various schools we’ve been too, quality of teaching isn’t drastically different, caliber of students and the overall curve is more apparent, but the most successful students are ones who study hard, get experience and are good people/workers. At least in medicine, outside of some elitist and ivory tower types, no one cares where you went to undergrad, or even med school. Where you did your training matters most. Having worked with harvard med students and doctors, there’s no discernible difference between them and others across the country. In some instances, even a harvard-trained doctor is the weaker candidate, despite lay people not knowing the difference.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. What do you think is the reason why you and your wife are so boring and bland as you said? And what are some things you guys could have done differently to make yourselves seem more interesting and appealing? Thx

      1. Generally speaking, we (as in asians) aren’t going to be loud, outspoken, opinionated or very extroverted. We keep our heads down, our mouths shut and go about our business and get things done. My wife and I weren’t high-achieving types, so no piano, language school, tutoring, hospital volunteering, etc., which probably affects personality development in those that spend all their free time doing those things. I’ve known my fair share of asian kids who spend all their time doing that instead of sports, hobbies, socializing, etc. I think it’s less common to see asian kids doing other things, things that may wow an admission committee, such as volunteering in africa, starting up some non-profit, etc. IMO, due to asian parents being traditional or not seeing that as being beneficial and because parents will be more practical and grounded, wanting their kid to be a doctor or engineer, and not seeing the worth of untraditional extra-curriculars. Not, that I disagree with them necessarily. For the “average’ asian kids, I think it’s different, they have hobbies, socialize, sports, etc., maybe more personality, but these aren’t the kids vying for ivy leagues either.

        1. Very interesting. Are these some of the traits you see in me?

          For example, I play competitive tennis and am ranked 5.0 USTA, which is in the top 1%. See:

          I’m always curious to know how others perceive me because it can be different from how I perceive myself.

          Growing up in Asia for 13 years, perception of Asians in Asia is entirely different from what you say here in America it seems. I guess that’s what happens when you are a majority versus a minority.

          I would encourage you to keep on challenging yourselves and putting yourself out there if you feel discriminated against or feel like you cannot get ahead. A boring life that isn’t filled with purpose is not worth living.

          1. Canadian Reader

            Thank You, Financial Samurai!

            It is the type of defeatist attitude that let the Ivies discriminated against Asian Americans for the last 50 years! And now Asian American kids are being kicked out of gifted programs in the elementary schools and elite high schools in a big cities that they got into fair and square! What next? State universities initiate an Asian quota too or perhaps Asian Americans get kicked out of jobs because certain professions have too many of “your typical hardworking, but no fun” Asians??!

            Since access to higher education is the ‘only key’ to a good life in America for a lot of people who have no trust funds nor great athletic abilities, why are that Asian Americans are so hesitant to fight for their rights??!

            As Asian Canadians, we pray that our government will not follow America’s “dumping down” policies in our education system! Thank goodness that merits still count for something here!

            **Please delete the following comment if it is deemed inappropriate for this forum. There is an old Cantonese saying that fits the mentality of ‘JSA’: Unlike most of us, some people, “eat feces and excrete rice!”.

        2. Asian parents traditionally focused on academics and “traditional” extracurriculars (e.g., piano, violin, debate, etc.) because they thought that was the ticket to Harvard or some other top school. In the past, that was probably the right thing to do.

          In recent months, I have heard of college counselors asking Asians to de-emphasize their Asian-ness on applications and interviews. Once Asian parents get the memo to send their kids to Africa to end world hunger or send their kids to DC to intern for a Senator, that’s what their going to do. The rules have changed but the goal is still the same. Asian parents and students will adapt to these new rules because this goal is such a powerful force in Asian families.

          I just wonder when Harvard will change it’s rules again once Asians prove that they aren’t “dull”. Harvard has a smart bunch of people–I’m sure they’ll think of something (maybe define an average height requirement goal for the incoming class?).

  6. Interesting post. My wife and I were both Harvard undergrads and Asian. We both come from below the poverty line backgrounds. I suspect Harvard does not view all Asian ethnicities as equal and I always felt I got in because I am half Vietnamese (as is my wife) and that was considered an under-represented minority.

    We are in science/medical fields, so I cannot comment on business/finance jobs. I have seen time and time again that dropping the Harvard name does open up doors, not close them. People give me the benefit of the doubt more likely, sometimes even changing their attitude towards me after they hear where I went for undergrad even though that was many years ago. My wife has often been involved in hiring in the biotech company she works for and used to be a proponent of equal hiring and not looking at the college/university, but even she, from her experiences, is now biased towards MIT/ivy league grads over others. Finance is likely very different given you are looking for different traits.

    High end colleges tend to filter many qualities such as drive and intellect, although of course this is not absolute. There are dumb people at Harvard and there are geniuses at state schools.

    I always assumed people knew about the legacy students in ivy leagues, but it is nice now to put a number on it. I do not think this will effect hiring, at least in the biotech and science world.

  7. Money Ronin

    Insightful article. While I agree with most of your points, I disagree with the title of the article. Even your chart indicates that Harvard’s acceptance rate has been steadily declining which indicates increased demand for a product with limited supply. People still perceive great value in a Harvard education, rightly or wrongly. Harvard and other Ivies have a long history. I sympathize with your “fight the power” stance but it will be a long time before the Ivies become diminished. There will always be brand recognition/benefit as a result of elitism or tribalism whether it’s a college or fraternity or elite high school or desirable employer on the resume.

    The recent findings disclosed as part of the Harvard lawsuit only confirm what most people have suspected for a long time. For people who see this as a negative, such an education had already been devalued. For the .05% who benefit from this system, they’re still going to Ivies.

    I concur that those with Ivy league degrees need to understand society is becoming hyper-aware of the privilege/unfairness associated with the Ivy experience. The guidance of “tread with caution” is well placed. However, among the Ivy circles, this heightened sense of scrutiny and elitism may prompt these people to circle the wagons and help each other even more as an offset to society’s aversion to their kind. I’m not saying they deserve our pity, but it is a form of reverse discrimination where society is judging a group of people because some benefited unfairly from their privilege. When most people see Harvard on a resume, they expect that person to be magical like a unicorn, so if that doesn’t materialize, it’s a let down for everyone.

    I went to a truly mediocre middle class high school and then attended a top public university.
    Now that I perhaps have the means to send my kids to an Ivy, I question whether it is worth the sacrifice in sweat and money for them and me. Based on my volunteering at my public university, the preparation that once would have been adequate for an Ivy is now the standard required to make it into a top public university. The bar has been raised everywhere.

    1. The chart does indeed show more demand for a Harvard degree, but that is heavily driven by international applications. I think the trend against elite universities will start in America, and then maybe after a generation it’ll change in other countries that are still developing.

      I have worked in two of the cities where all these graduates come to the most: New York City, and San Francisco. I am in the thick of things, and the trend away from them is very palatable, even if there are some awesome people who graduated from these universities, and even if they are legacy for super wealthy and great contributors to the society.

  8. I feel like we shouldn’t learn the things you think we should learn.

    For instance you say, “In other words, it should be more impressive if you are a younger Harvard alumnus than if you are an older Harvard alumnus.”

    This would only be true in the somewhat narrow case where both populations were equally likely to apply. Imagine a case where only 10% of the potential applicant pool was competitive for admission but they were also the only ones that applied. The school could have a 100% acceptance rate but this should be equally impressive as the school having a 10% acceptance where 100% of the population applies because the same top 10% applied. I think there were probably at least a few differences in the population “back then” versus now that also explain the decrease in admission rates.

    Also, although someone already brought up the omitted variable bias that makes interpreting the raw acceptance rates you list at the beginning of your post difficult, it’s worth mentioning again. The 5.9% acceptance rate for the overall population compared to the 33.6% acceptance rate of legacy students (and really you should compare the acceptance rate of legacy students to the acceptance rate of non-legacy, non-donors rather than the overall rate) can’t be attributed to simply being a legacy. They could also be more compelling applicants for other reasons. One poster brought up the possibility that they had more resources to make themselves more compelling because they are wealthier (they can spend thousands on SAT prep courses) but they could also be smarter or more impressive (i.e. the children of smart Harvard grads inherit that intelligence)

    You also say: “However, Harvard and other private institutions should at least acknowledge they use race, legacy, money, and athletics as determinant factors in their subjective crafting of an incoming class. To tell the world they they do not discriminate against Asian-Americans is an insult to our intelligence.”

    I feel like Harvard and other top-tier schools have generally been up front about not admitting students solely based on grades and that race or being a student athlete is a factor in their admissions decisions. Isn’t that what their holistic or whole-person assessment is about? I do not know to what extent they acknowledge the role of money and legacy. But it still doesn’t follow from your statemnt that they discriminate against Asian-Americans. And in fact, David Card’s ( analysis finds no negative effect of being Asian on admissions decisions. It’s certainly possible to identify flaws or disagree with some parts of his analysis, but you didn’t even mention it.

    Finally, it seems like you and some of the other commenters potentially have some biases of your own when it comes to hiring decisions. You mention things like hustle, and some other commenters mention emotional intelligence or being able to sit next to the person all day as critical components of job performance but really thousands of studies say that intelligence is the single most important factor for job performance. All things equal, being more intelligent leads to higher performance at all jobs and at all levels. Conscientiousness and emotional stability are probably the second most important thing but incorporating them only improve predictions of job performance by about 20%.

    Keep in mind that overall, I’m not claiming that you are necessarily wrong in some of the things you’re saying (Harvard may in fact discriminate against Asians in ways that are wrong), just that the evidence you provided isn’t particularly persuasive.

    1. Sure, that’s the beauty of the free market. People will always have various beliefs and interpretations. One of the best things that has helped me is to try and continuously figure out what the future holds (e.g. investments, the internet, demographics).

      I believe there is a trend away from the elites because of the dissemination of information that shows how rigged the system is. As a result, my advice is for the elites to be careful.

      You may also believe that Harvard doesn’t discriminate against Asian-Americans, but clearly, a large amount of Asian-Americans and other people due when they look at the numbers, hence the lawsuit.

      Share with us your background so we can an idea of where you are coming from. And what do you think the future holds?

  9. Who is surprised by the fact that wealthy folks have an easier time with Harvard admissions? I have long held that schools themselves look at their applicant pool and choose those who are most beneficial to the long-term prestige of the institution. It is unsurprising that the rich, especially those of parents who attended the school are selected disproportionately.

    These days we place so much faith in the idea of “meritocracy” as if it is the end-all be-all of equity; it isn’t. It is just a bully pulpit for a certain constituency. The reality is people have different natural and learned attributes and capabilities. And test scores, grades, extracurriculars, jobs etc. are just some of the dimensions in favor these days.

    1. I was after the details came out, hence this post. Once you give me the numbers, I like to go deep into the analysis. I’ll stand my ground that most people didn’t realize how stacked the admissions system is until this lawsuit.

  10. Very interesting lawsuit and fascinating analysis of the information revealed in the case. I’ve been following the case fairly closely, too, but have not seen those admissions statistics laid out so clearly before. Sam, what is the source for those donor and legacy rates? I’d like to read that source material (articles, testimony?) myself and share with some of my friends and family. Thanks,

  11. Really enjoyed this post. I disagree with the comment above that this topic isn’t related to financial independence. Education is essential to independence. The trends in education are changing and those trends are impacting how education is delivered and how it’s perceived.

    For kids entering the workforce (with or without elite degrees), another thing I would recommend is to work on your personal narrative.

    This is one of Sam’s best articles:

    In particular, I love this principle: “live a life of purpose as soon as possible”

    Your resume will get you the interview. But this is just a summary of WHAT you’ve done. Your personal narrative should communicate WHY. Your purpose and values are a big part of that.

  12. I really enjoyed this post, and your commentary about admissions into Harvard and Ivy League schools. My brother and I both attended undergrad and grad school at highly rated public universities, graduated with no debt and leftover money in the bank accounts our frugal immigrant Asian parents set up for that purpose.

    The hiring practices at Elon Musk’s companies are the closest I’ve seen to a Meritocracy in the U.S. You can be hired (and promoted) with pink hair, a Mohawk or even tattoos ON YOUR FACE, as long as you can demonstrate through the work you’ve done that you are exceptional, in the judgement of the peers and bosses in the hiring process. Staying employed there is a feat as well.

    As a child, my mother already told me that “Life isn’t fair”. Hard work and some degree of luck is all you can expect.

  13. Mary Kennedy Eastham

    The donor thing helps explain Jared Kushner. My niece went to MIT and is and has always been a whippersnapper. She did an internship at Apple in between her junior and senior year and moved out here to the Bay Area last year to work full-time for Apple.They’ve just made her in charge of new hires.
    Her goal is to stay out here a decade, do well, make money and then teach high school science.
    I adore her, always have and she’s socially great as well. Some of us get it all!!!

  14. Wow. Amazing post, and even more entertaining for the comments it generated from generational elites who are clearly afraid of losing their advantage in the new world order. Love it!

    Funny story- I attended an elite high school where the entrance was based entirely on one exam. While we can have a healthy debate about the pluses and minuses of high-stakes testing, it was certainly an objective criteria. Folks from my HS were generally unimpressed by the lower half of their Ivy colleagues, most of whom were clearly admitted by something other than academic merit.

    Of note, my HS boasts an almost 100% acceptance rate to medical school and a similar rate to top 7 law schools- more than Harvard, FWIW.

    To this day, people from my HS keep their HS name on their CVs and Linkedin profile; it means much more in some circles than a bought Ivy degree.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Where did you go after your elite high school? And was going to such a high school worth it? I’ve always wondered whether it’s best to just go to a normal high school and then be in the top 5% rather than try to kill yourself and be in the top 5% of an elite high school since Harvard can’t accept everyone from the high school.

      1. I went to a top 10-15 non-Ivy university. No one really ends up at a bad school from my HS, although it’s not all Ivy by any means, and the field is deep, as you point out.

        Whether it was worth it is a GREAT question.

        I grew up in a city where the options at the time (they have since broadened) were elite public or elite private school- there wasn’t really an option of a decent, but not crazy high-stress, public school, which I think is the best answer for the 99% (I think choice of school is largely irrelevant for the 1%, certainly for the .01%). Given the options available, it wasn’t a bad choice, although I don’t think it’s worth it now, and I agree that a decent public school where you can really shine is a great deal and much less stress, although with a 5% admit rate at the Ivies and their ilk, I think that being number one at public school may still land you at Northwestern, Emory, Vanderbilt, Carleton, Cal, UCLA etc these days unless you have a hook.

        However, my HS has a truly amazing alum network including editors at top publications, members of the National Academy of Sciences, top folks in various branches of the US government etc, and we are more loyal to each other than to our classmates from college. And it was…fun being around smart people. College is (as you point out) full of not so smart people, and that’s less fun, but perhaps a better preparation for real life.

        For kids interested in things that take a huge amount of hard-core intellectual firepower (quantum computing, for example) and maybe (debatable) for those that require a relatively hard and also test-oriented admissions process (law or medschool), it was probably worth it. For Wall Street, management consulting, public service, teaching etc, no, not worth it from a career perspective.

        1. Because they didn’t answer your question, it’s very likely they went to Exeter or Andover. Those are the only two high schools that make sense to include on your CV after you go to college.

  15. When I was applying to college I thought that was a pre requisite for many employment opportunities which to an extent is true.

    The only difference is that it was very later on in life that I realized many ivy league alumni don’t actually go thru college for employment prospects lol because they came from something called a family office aka conglomerates in Asia. There are so many of these in HK. meeting these people in the expat circle is not uncommon. What job or career you speak of? They create them.

    I guess college for them was just a place to network

  16. The admissions process is totally rigged. We have prepared our daughter our whole life. Despite her getting close to a 2250 on her SATs with a 4.3 GPA she didn’t get accepted at most of the schools she applied to. Yes we have Asian backgrounds despite her being 3rd generation with a non American name.

    The other point I wanted to make. It’s about attitude and good work ethic and working hard. I don’t care where you go to school. As a business owner I look for hungry people too. Good attitude, reliability and who can try on their own without needing help all the time IS a must.

  17. Sam – great post. Very bold and arguably not directly related to financial independence, but I think it’s great that you shed light on the trend away from elitism. I’m sorry you received some nonsensical, idiotic and ignorant comments above, but that is the price you pay for forcing people to face harsh reality.
    Personally, I don’t see all private elite universities and institutions as entirely useless, specially for engineering and hard sciences. I went to one of them, I had no influence, legacy, etc., nor did I have tutoring to ace the SATs (I didn’t train for them and my score was on the low side). I enjoyed my engineering education and took away a lot that has served me well. At that time (20+ years ago), I had no use for Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Yale and their shallow elitism and lack of actual education I was seeking (engineering), so I didn’t bother applying. I would do the same today and would encourage my kids to do the same.
    Over the years in my career, I’ve met and worked with hundreds or thousands of people who come from elite, rich, privileged backgrounds. Their entire life dominated by hookups and layups, and very very few of them impress me. If they are intelligent, they often lack drive and/or humility. They seldom posses all 3 – (a)raw intelligence/curiosity, (b) drive/hustle/hard work, (c) humility/modesty/down-to-earth and aware of their immense privilege.

  18. Zero college – got job at trading desk out of high school and was running day-trading operation by age 21. In 40s now and could retire if wanted.

    College is a preserver of wealth over generations more than a creator. The creation of wealth for this country is historically dominated by the risk takers – the entrepreneurs – you want to be wealthy start a company. You may fail – you may get lopped of by the non-ergodic nature of being a risk taker – but you will have tried.

  19. Contributor

    Sam, do you believe this applies to graduate schools, masters programs, e.g. MBA programs as well? I think, to a certain degree, it does, but there are positively diffentisted elements of these higher levels of education that may correlate to increased selectivity, cost, etc. Thoughts?

    1. Yes, but I would say 50% – 80% less so. For b-school school, maybe 50% less so. There’s still a lot of arrogance coming from business school grads. It’s natural when money and power are involved.

      For a graduate degree in the sciences and more, I would say 80% less so. Much less arrogance because of much less money.

      I feel to get into graduate school is more closely aligned with meritocracy. The schools usually want to see what you’ve done post undergrad as part of their evaluation criteria, at least with b-school.

  20. Kathy Abell

    “I have a suspicion, like many starry-eyed young adults, he’ll enter the world thinking all is fair and right in the world. Then reality hits.

    As a result, I’ll probably keep Financial Samurai going just in case he realizes dad is right.”


    Definitely plan to keep FS going until FS Jr. is at LEAST 35 years old. It takes until about that age for offspring to reach enough maturity to realize, hey, maybe my parents were actually right about something!


  21. Great article, Sam. Very well researched and thought out.

    For context: I’m a public school undergrad (Maryland) + private school PhD program (Princeton). I saw a big change in opportunity after getting the graduate school stamp.

    As a parent, it’s a complex issue. You want your child to have as best an opportunity to succeed as possible, but you also want them to want it and earn it on their own. My parents used a good rule for college: they pay for 3 years and I pay for 1 year, no matter where I went. That helped internalize some of the costs / benefits, and allowed the choice to be mine. I’m grateful to have graduated with minimal debt because of this parental support (and university support for the graduate degree). I’m hopeful to support a debt-free education for my kids (paying it forward), but hopefully at reasonably value-oriented education (state schools or other reasonably priced education opportunities). By far, the number one factor in success if what you put into your education.

    I don’t see the value of elite schools declining anytime soon, even with potential negative light being cast on the admissions policies (hopefully this helps fix them). They’re still used for significant signalling and sorting of graduates. But, I’m hopeful that access to online education / information will make the importance of all degrees less valuable over time. Substance over signal dominates in the end, in my view.

    Anyway, great article. Thumbs up.

  22. Some people may voice opposition to this post but I commend you for raising awareness and challenging the status quo. Our country is becoming more racially diverse and the opportunities and acceptance rates at schools and corportations should adapt and keep up. Any issue that somehow involves race gets a lot of people fired up because things get complex and discrimination is real and just plain awful as those who have experienced it know all to well. Great suggestions in this article and getting people to think about real issues, the ugly truths that are out there, and some suggestions on how to handle them.

  23. Frank anonymous

    Should the child of a multimillionaire, caring father who is willing and able to provide every advantage to their child, including their own time and built up wisdom in the worlds of business, finance and online media be forced to disclose those advantages when they are applying for a job?

    1. Absolutely. In fact, I hope the child writes some amazing application essays to discuss unique insights into what he’s learned growing up to be the man he is today. I hope he recognizes his advantages and disadvantages. I hope he has the emotional intelligence to write about potentially where he would be without these things.

      One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is always talking about their wins. It’s off putting. People want to relate and empathize with others. This is the main reason why interviewers/applications ask, “Tell me about a struggle in your life and how you overcame it, or are still dealing with it.”

      BS answers like “I’m too organized” goes straight to the NO bin.

      How about you? What’s your story?

      1. Frank anonymous

        I am a cynical, cynical man…and a long time fan. I think Daniel said it best above, these legacy students that are able to get in are not as underachieving as you think, it feels unfair to these students to blanket reject them as suggested.

        The number one predictor of achievement is parental wealth, likely closely followed by parental effort and parental connections. I would take the wager that your son will be more successful than a randomly selected Harvard student that came from modest means. The cynic in me sees this whole piece as a little hypocritical, while also seeing it was purposefully provocative and I’m taking the bait, haha.

        70% acceptance rate alumni + donor seems high. I would assume every Harvard grad with a child applying has been making their annual offering for a few years…

        Am I the only one who hates it when Harvard grads do the smug/coy dance of making you wade through the “school in Boston” thing to figure out they went to Harvard? Just say you went to Harvard, geez!

        I have more thoughts on the lawsuit, but I’m just making quora, I mean financial Samurai rich with my amazing content (kidding)

        1. It’s not these legacy kids getting rejected, all they have to do is not disclose her legacy or children of donors. This is more for other kids who would like to differentiate themselves in case this growing backlash gets bigger.

  24. Despite your logical argument that college degrees overall are losing their value and that elite private college degrees will be further look down upon once everybody knows how to rigged the system is, I don’t think elite private school graduates will recognize the shifting view of their pedigree until it’s too late.

    The parents and the kids who stress out about having to go to Harvard and other schools are the ones I really feel sorry for. They’re going to arrive in a world where they are thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of their sacrifices.

    I went to Columbia University on partial scholarship. The majority of my peers went to public school, and the majority of them are doing just as well if not better.

  25. Martial arts Mama

    I have to agree with Jason’s comments above. (As for H’s comments? What a total ignorant tool.)

    Every Harvard alum I know, including myself, will say that they graduated from school in Boston to avoid the appearance of bragging. In fact, Boston is code word for Harvard.

    As an Asian-American who grew up with a single mother in a low-income household, I guess it was harder for me to get in, particularly since I went to a tony prep school on full scholarship against other Ivy league applicants. But Harvard was the most formative time for me, and almost every person I met there was truly outstanding– high school valedictorian, star athlete, debate team champion, or combination of the above. Sure, you’d occasionally meet a mediocre “Kushner” who got in based on family connections and wealth, but they were not the majority from my experience.

    Would I want my kids to go to Harvard? Absolutely. Harvard has opened so many doors from me. Even now that I’m retired at 47, I still get job offers from people I meet when they hear my background. If you have 2 comparable candidates, the Harvard grad will usually win the position. However, once at the job, they must work twice as hard since the expectations and scrutiny are twice as high, especially from people who may be jealous or want to see just how good you are.

    This is why I raise my kids using the growth mindset vs the fixed mindset- they will achieve and succeed if they work hard, not because they have some innate talent.

    1. Good stuff, and thanks for sharing. Thanks for also not bashing me over the head by calling out Harvard in this post.

      This post really is for folks like you and your kid(s) to just be aware of the shifting sentiment towards elite private school grads. It is easy to miss the shift if all your friends are of similar background and pedigree.

      1. Hello. Altough I am not from your environment, I understood well that the purpose of the article was to just warn people about possible attitudes of rejection towards them if they disclose their private school background in certain situations. I didn’t percieve it to be an agressive article nor did I see envy in the author, but a practical analysis from his point of wiev. I was surprised by the first comment because it seems that such things can be misunderstood and cause people to feel attacked. It is interesting for me to observe you guys interacting because this is a totally different social milieu to mine and people seem to get triggered by completely different things.

  26. Emotional intelligence has been shown to be the most influential predictor of success. The ability to recognize and manage not only your own emotions, but also those of others, and discern between different feelings makes such a difference. Having an emotional compass to guide not only your thinking, but your behavior, and using it to adapt to a multitude of environments makes accomplishing your goals much easier.

    At the end of the day, you certainly want someone bright enough to do the work assigned to them. Harvard is full up on that. But what you need in equal, if not more, measure, is the ability to want to work with someone for long periods of time. Even to look forward to working with this person.

    Navigating human emotions is no easy task. I’m no expert but I’ve read a number of books to improve my emotional intelligence. The odd thing is, raw human intelligence isn’t something you can manipulate and is largely determined at birth. Emotional intelligence on the other hand, the most powerful indicator of success, can be practiced and improved. This should be reassuring to anyone in how they can advance their career, meet and grow a healthy and nurturing relationship with your spouse, and ultimately develop fruitful relationships with others.

  27. It is interesting how rigged the system is. On the one hand, Harvard and the like talk about trying to help underprivileged people get ahead in life.

    On the other hand, they help those who are already already get ahead in life get further ahead due to money and supposedly people’s ability to bring great honor to Harvard.

    Unfortunately, when people find out guys like Jared Kushner got in thanks to dad’s $2.5M donation while all his teachers said he was a mediocre student, that hurts the reputation.

    And with the stats out now about their extreme acceptance rates and higher hurdles for Asian-Americans, a lot more people are going to be look down upon private school grads, especially from Harvard.

    Their reputation is getting hurt. Why hire a spoiled Harvard grad who is just going to go to job hop or quit whenever, when you can hire a hungry public school grad who appreciates their opportunities?

  28. Not sure I’d take such a powerful stance. Honestly I suspect something else entirely. The elite schools, public and private, will remain due to a reputation for academic excellence and connections. The non elite schools will probably be canabalized by online education. Simply put if you can’t at least cast the perception of a differentiated education why would anyone choose to spend on a tradition education once online takes off?

    Elite public technical university graduate, though married to an elite private technical university graduate.

  29. One thing, the elite alumni are not, by and large, applying to the “jobs of the masses,” who may be thumbing their nose at the “rich kid who thinks they are better than you.” You go to those schools so you get the good connections and the name brand job. For example, I would wager that there are not too many people who go to Harvard to (or like) to work in communications or marketing at their local car dealership, but they go to those schools to in the communications department at Ford (HQ), Google, etc. Just look at the recent employers for the elite schools like Harvard or the top MBA programs. They are either in the traditional industries (like finance or consulting) where the name absolutely still matters, but are also going into the tech sector. So yeah, it may not be as important, but name still matters.

    I will say as someone who went to a small top 15 private school that the name on my diploma opened more doors than the same resume from “big state” would have. I would also argue that while it is not Harvard, William and Mary IS an elite school and would have opened many of the same doors; yes it is a public school but it is an elite one. There are other public schools which have this reputation either locally (usually the flagship university(ies) in the state) or nationally (schools like Berkeley, UVa, Michigan, etc).

    Now there is definitely something to be said about personality mattering a lot more when it is a small company environment (for example my company is 8 people), but at the same time, Id be lying if I said that the first thing we looked at was a person’s education. Also, I do not give two craps if the person got into Harvard because they earned it or whether it was bought by daddy, all I care about is what did they do with the opportunity. Did you participate in extracurriculars, have a good major with good grades or did you just sit on your butt playing video games, majored in basket weaving, and got mediocre grades?

    1. Yes, good point. It’s an incestuous bunch.

      Old money industries, like banking, private equity, venture capital, money management, and management consulting, are filled with elite private school alumni who will continue to have their biases, so tread carefully.

      But new money industries like tech and biotech are extremely focused on meritocracy. Over time, I’m confident old money industries will slowly remove their biases as well, starting by casting a wider recruiting net beyond specific private universities.

      I just have to say though…. what is the point of going to Harvard to work as a number at Google trying to optimize click through rates for ads? I would be depressed.

      First I’ve heard that William & Mary is an elite school. Perhaps the perception is changing, and I’m doing the school a great service by boosting its profile in my posts as this site grows. I’m proud to be an alum, as I would think most all alums are of their school.

      What’s your story?

      1. At least where I grew up (NJ in the early 2000s), William and Mary had an excellent reputation. Maybe not HYP, but at least in the Johns Hopkins/Emory/Tufts group of places you’ve kind of heard of being good.

  30. Not really sure who the intended audience for this post is. If you’ve had a child who applied to college within the last 10 years, or you went to college, well, ever, this is totally obvious to you. College admissions has never been a meritocracy. Sure, some percentage of admits were based on merit, or in the name of obtaining a “diverse” class, but it was almost always a game of half the class (more or less depending on how elite the school) being a forgone conclusion, ad the rest competing for the available slots. We all saw in high school that the valedictorian didn’t get into Harvard or Yale, but the kid ranked 25th got into both (oh yea, he was a wrestler…). We didn’t go to school with the kids of big donors (they typically didn’t go to public schools, even though there are excellent public schools where I grew up and live now). But all you need to do is look at the college sweatshirt picture of the elite private high school graduates to understand what goes on. Like those schools that have 150 instructional days a year were that much more rigorous than the public schools? please.

    One thing that is obvious now vs. when you and I applied to school (I’m 10 years ahead of you) is electronic applications. It is much easier now, using the common application, to apply to 30 schools compared to when we needed to type each application. Thus, the number of applicants at each school has skyrocketed, while the number of seats has not grown quite as rapidly.

    With regard to reporting if you are a legacy or donor related admit. Frankly, that’s just a silly proposal. Do you really think that people who gained admission via a 7 figure family donation and legacy situation are sending out their resume to look for a job? The same way those people got into college, they get into law school, or into finance or real estate or hedge funds. By nature of their last names, everyone KNOWS how they got where they got. In many cases, it doesn’t matter. How many people did you interview at Goldman that were true donor admissions? Likely very very few. Those that were got into the interview process via a call or email from their parental or grand parental sponsor, and you would know their status anyway. Everyone else got in via on campus recruiting or submitting online/the old fashioned way.

    In any event, what does it really matter? To me it seems like to are still bitter that you didn’t have an advantage like some prep school trust fund kid. You should be proud of yourself for getting where you did on your own, but what does it matter to you if someone used their privilege for their personal gain? Private schools have been like that for hundreds of years in the US, and in Europe as well (see. Oxford or Cambridge).

    I’m also just not sure there is a long term trend away from elite. If you look at the disparity between haves and have nots in the US and abroad, the gap is widening, not shrinking. Anyway, I’ve not known any Harvard grad who ever bragged or highly publicized where they went to school. Most that I know are more embarrassed by it than anything else…”Where did you go to school?”…”Boston” was how they usually responded.

    1. The post is to help elite private school graduates recognize a negative trend, and to take steps to protect themselves and their children from the 99%.

      I for one, didn’t know the details of legacy and donor admissions. I suspect most folks don’t know the details either.

      You’re right, nothing really matters. My time is over as I’m way beyond going to college or needing a job. I wonder what my son’s future will be like. I can only pontificate and keep on controlling what I can control.

      What’s your story?

      1. The last poster wrote that Harvard grads: “… are more embarrassed by it than anything else…”Where did you go to school?”…”Boston” was how they usually responded.”

        This made me laugh as I have seen that approach many times. The strategy seems to beg the question “Where in Boston?” then pays off with bonus points for being a *self-effacing* Harvard grad. But in my opinion it’s better to just own it outright when asked. It is what it is.

        On Sam’s idea that there will be backlash against elite colleges: Given continuing trends toward income inequality, that kind of societal shift doesn’t seem to me to be happening. There is lots of justice in the idea, but I don’t really see specific evidence. In my opinion.

      2. My story? well not sure what you mean, but I’m early 50’s, work full time, went to a top 25 school that I would not be admitted to today but was in 1984. But My 2 kids are going through/just went through the college admission process.

        My son who is a college junior now, is gifted. Perfect SAT’s, heavy load of AP classes, all 5’s on the AP exams, took Calc 3 in high school, very involved in a few clubs in the small Magnet public school he went to. Didn’t get into any elite colleges, but he was applying for computer engineering, which is a very hard major to get given that starting salarys out of undergrad are ~$100K.

        He ended up at a very good private engineering school with ~1/2 tuition scholarship.

        My daughter is a HS junior and just starting out the process.

        But lets be real, “The post is to help elite private school graduates recognize a negative trend, and to take steps to protect themselves and their children from the 99%.” um ok, nice troll. I’m sure you know your demographic is not elite private school attending anyone.

        What will your son face? Who knows. Suze Ormann thinks he’ll face an AI decimated job market and a dystopian future. He’ll also likely face subtle discrimination based on his ethnicity, like my kids likely do based on our demographics (you think MIT needed more white Jewish kids from NJ? no. If we had decided to stay in Iowa, I bet he would be studying in Cambridge right now…).

        1. Very cool. Sorry about your son not getting into an elite private university. What more do you think he could have done?

          Given there’s over 1 million pageviews a month on FS, there’s actually a large percentage of readers who did go to elite private universities, much more than the overall numbers for America. When your site gets large, there is no one demographic your audience fits into. But the readership here skews towards the mass affluent. Check out: Financial Samurai reader demographics for the income and net worth figures.

          I’m thankful for the diversity of readers and their perspectives. And I understand how this post would ruffle some feathers of those who’ve spent big bucks and/or worked really hard to get into such schools.

          What would you have done differently for your kids if you could rewind time?

          Related: Would You Be Willing To Accept $1,000,000 To Go To Public School All Your Life?

  31. Another great thought provocative article! From personal experience I have always had the thought that Ivy league schools allow a large percentage of people in who really are academic all stars, but due to money/legacy get into these school. Does anyone really believe George Bush Jr. got in on his academic ability to Yale? The latest lawsuit only proves my hypothesis, and your findings from it were eye opening.

    I disagree about your assessment on the loss of Ivy league school advantage. Every president since Reagan had a Ivy league education, and every current supreme court justice graduated from either Harvard, Yale or Columbia law school. Newer company may care less, but a degree from Harvard or Yale will guarantee you a interview at that company. Also the connections you get at these schools gives you a advantage for rest of your life. Will the lawsuit drop some of the prestige is still to be determined. In the short term yes, long term is to be determined.

    1. Let’s see! It’s fun to predict the future, whether it is the next hot neighborhood, a demographic trend, an undiscovered stock, or the belief that getting a college education from a private university is worth it when everything can now be learned online for free.

  32. What’s your view on MIT (and the like)? It also is “private” but it (seemingly) has more of a reputation of “entry by merit/smarts”.

    I also deal with and hire from all sorts of schools (and I work in a technical industry). I admit that when I hear Harvard I think “could be good, but need to double click” and when I hear MIT I think, “cool, what did you research and/or work on?”.

    1. You ask a great question, because I view MIT, rightly or wrongly, as an amazing school full of genius level kids in the maths and sciences.

      University administrators care about, among other things, MONEY and REPUTATION. With a ~$16B endowment, MIT has the money. And I also think MIT has created rigorous reputation where only the smartest of the smart get in because those who are able to buy their way into MIT and aren’t extremely smart, will struggle to graduate.

      Harvard has a reputation problem. And I think they will change to protect and improve their reputation.

      1. I think MIT also has a holistic approach in admitting students though much more aligned to meritocracy. On the other hand, CalTech has a reputation of admitting kids purely based on academic achievement.

        1. Best schools for meritocratic admissions seem to be Caltech, MIT, the UCs (except for athletes), UT-Austin (except for athletes), and also the honors colleges at flagship state universities such as Arizona and Oregon State.

          I think you are so right that the Ivies etc have been resting on their laurels and that as the economy and education system change, they will become increasingly irrelevant. They are already, as you point out, irrelevant in much of tech.

          Anecdotally, I see more and more folks going to cheaper schools and ignoring the Ivies and LACs as simply country clubs not worth the $$$.

        2. CalTech is a bad example imo. Their typical class size is <300, and they don't really have extensive extracurriculars. CalTech is better for Grad School I think.

          MIT does have athletics, music and other things that they look to use to diversify their class (from only very comp sci focused kids). the problem with MIT is that, if they wanted, they could enroll a class of 100% kids who got 1580-1600 on SAT or 36 on ACT.

  33. Interesting post, though I think there is a bit of a fallacy in assuming legacy students are more likely to get in strictly on the basis of being legacy students. I worked in the admissions office at an elite, private, east coast college, and I think there’s a bit more nuance than that.

    The advantage of being a legacy applicant is not that you have an easier time in front of admissions committee (unless parents are bigwig donors, as you point out). Rather, the legacy applicant pool tends to be stronger to begin with. Kids whose parents went to Harvard, Stanford, Williams, Amherst, etc. are, in general, afforded more opportunity. They are more likely to have access to elite private prep schools, private college counseling, SAT tutoring, and the other resources that make them stronger applicants. They also can develop a greater understanding of the school and its culture (like Goldman, many of these schools admit based on fit when every applicant is academically and extracurricularly strong) which they can use to tailor application essays and materials.

    Legacy applicants still start from an advantage, but that advantage is more about the benefits afforded to a child of parents who attended an elite institution. In admissions decisions at many schools, legacy status might be used as a tipping point or decision point between two equally compelling candidates. While working your way in as a non-legacy is still impressive at these institutions (in many cases, at least–the child of Yale grads getting into Harvard shouldn’t be viewed with the same admiration), I think the context in which that argument sits is important. It’s not that being a legacy gets you in, but rather that you’ve likely had numerous advantages growing up in such an environment that make the path easier. You started further down the track.

    Also worth noting there’s a conflation of acceptance rate for legacies and class make-up–Harvard classes, for example, are closer to 25-30% legacies depending on the year.

    1. Good point and well said.

      Hence, should we help the kid who is able to get $3,000 SAT tutoring versus the non-legacy kid who doesn’t have the financial means? Not sure.

      I’d root for the kid who gets a 1,200 without tutoring versus the kid who gets 1,400 with SAT tutoring. And this is partially because I don’t think the SAT is a good measure of someone’s hunger, nature, or likelihood of success.


      1. Neither of those kids is getting into Harvard unless they have one hell of a story (unfortunately to a point the SAT does matter), but at the end of the day you’re usually looking at a much smaller margin. And you’re right, at that point test scores matter least. The kid with the incredible story bypassing every obstacle but with lower grades and the double legacy from Westport with a 4.4 and 1600 have already gotten in.

        After you’ve admitted your valedictorians and culled out those with grades and test scores that aren’t competitive in the pool, let’s say you’re looking at maybe a 3.8 GPA legacy kid with a 1550 against a 3.7 1st generation college student with a 1520.

        I’m rooting for whichever had the hardest course load and is most intellectually curious, whichever has the best recommendations, whichever wrote the best supplement essay that didn’t just regurgitate the university’s bragging rights. Still equal? The one with the better story. Still equally compelling after that? Then you take the legacy.

    2. Disagree.

      Students from top public schools (Jefferson, Gunn, Palo Alto, Stuy etc) have a MUCH harder time getting into top colleges than expected based on their grades, ECs, and test scores.

      1. Oh you’re absolutely right–these schools want the top performers from every background. After all, those top public schools are another form of advantage that kids in less competitive cities might not have. But the top public schools are still a relative minority in the pool. I was just trying to give one example case when legacy might play in.

    3. Danielle Ogilve

      This is a great point. It’s a common misconception that legacies are accepted because of the fact that they are legacies. But I agree, they have more opportunity because their parents went to these schools.

      1. The thing is, perception matters. It matters more than at any time if you are trying to get a job.

        Hence, the solution to separate yourself from any false perception that legacy graduates get all the advantages in the world.

        But man, I sure could have used some $2,400 SAT tutor prepping back in the day! Can’t believe it’s $4,000 now, but makes sense due to inflation.

  34. I have had your site bookmarked for years and read it often, but this might be the end. Your content has been slipping, and this piece is shameful frankly. The crassness with which you cast judgment on schools and kids for admitting those who can pay for the future of the school reeks of ignorance and jealousy. Your decision to ignore candidates of color who might not otherwise have gotten in to places like Harvard (let alone get that type of education and have the opportunities that a Harvard degree can confer) without the money from wealthy donors is extremely convenient.

    And in case you’re wondering, Asians are not considered people of color. Asians have every advantage and are not discriminated against, no matter what generation they are. Therefore, we should expect Asians to have higher test scores and do more to get into private schools.

    A guy who went to a SEC private school with $50,000 tuition in South.

    1. You just highlighted what’s worse: being an alumni of a non-elite private university that costs the same as Harvard, but gets nowhere near the same recognition.

      Not only did you pay all this tuition, you didn’t even get an education on how the world works. You surrounded yourself by mostly rich white people. This is the problem many private southern universities like Emory U have.

      Vanderbilt doesn’t even have a good football team. What’s the point of attending? Although that was a close game against Notre Dane.

      Get out of the South and see how America and the world is changing.

      1. Yancy has it right. As someone from the south who didn’t attend an expensive private school but a boring old public one, it’s sad to see this perputation of privalege. Maybe because I am an engineer it’s never mattered, but I kind of feel sorry when I encounter someone from that world.

    2. “And in case you’re wondering, Asians are not considered people of color. Asians have every advantage and are not discriminated against, no matter what generation they are. Therefore, we should expect Asians to have higher test scores and do more to get into private schools.”

      This is a perfect summary of the America at the moment: We never discriminated the Asians before, let’s do it now! BTW, you better ready history of “Chinese Exclusion Act” before making such a bold conclusion.

      1. Extremely ignorant statement re: asians and “people of color”.. i hope my children do not have to live through the current grievance culture

    3. I hope you realized that you just lumped 17 million Asian Americans from a very diverse background together. Lots of them have been here a while, but many of them are still struggling.
      Discrimination still exists. Do you have any friends who are first-generation Asian Americans?

    4. Oh wow. I can’t believe you really feel that way towards Asians. You must have never experienced discrimination before and spent your whole life only surrounded by people who look like yourself. I have been discriminated against as have so many other Americans and it is so hurtful it’s hard to put into words. Based on your comment you aren’t living in the real world because there is a LOT of discrimination and hate in the real world.

    5. Kathy Abell

      And let’s not forget concentration camps such as Manzanar where over 110,000 Japanese AMERICANS were interred (i.e., LOCKED UP) during World War II. Not to mention having their property confiscated.

    6. Got it. Never realized Asians weren’t considered a minority or people of color given the 5.6% Asian population in America.

      Part of the reason why I wrote this article is to be less ignorant b/c I know readers like yourself will tell it to me straight. Congrats on attending a private university and having the financial means.

      I’ll discuss the racial issue of this Asian-American lawsuit in more detail in a future article.

      Related: Why Asians Continue To Earn And Save So Much

    7. Homer, your comment absolutely shows your ignorance. I know from personal experience that discrimination against Asians does indeed exist, even in liberal California where I grew up. And pervasive stereotyping does affect college and job prospects (i.e. Asians aren’t very personable, are only good for math/science positions, etc.) Attitudes like yours are why employers are so wary of legacy and donor Ivy League grads with entitlement issues. Many of these grads don’t hustle like others who did it on on their own. I grew up in the bad part of town, but my parents sacrificed to send me to private schools, all on their own dime. A lot of the 1%er kids I knew slacked off because they were told from infancy that their parents would buy their way in. I now live next door to them, and all other things being equal, would hire the state school kid over the Harvard kid because of what I saw growing up.

    8. Wow, you are a bitter person. Who is going to want to work with someone who insults another person after doing such good work.

      I can’t believe Sam approves your comments in the first place.

      Are you incapable of having an open mind and an open dialogue without attacks and insults? What’s wrong with you?

  35. I love your solution of stating you are a first generation graduate of a particular university.

    I too have had opportunities to interview others for a very competitive radiology residency program. Everyone comes in with high power grades. And like you I was more interested in personality fit. We have to work side by side with these people for years so you want someone who has a compatible personality.

    A lot of the top scorers were just book smart and had no social skills and were rejected because of perceived lack of fit with the program we had in place.

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