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Admissions considerations for children of alumni or donors

Provost Persis Drell provides information on the undergraduate admissions process at Stanford and its outcomes for the children of alumni and donors.

Note: A 2019 California State law requires colleges and universities that consider “legacy” or donor status in their admissions processes to submit data in an annual report to the State. This post was written at the time of Stanford’s first report to the State, in 2020. Subsequent reports are posted on the Institutional Research & Decision Support website.

Stanford admits undergraduate students through a holistic review process that considers all of the achievements and attributes presented by each applicant to the university, including academic excellence, intellectual vitality, extracurricular activities and personal context. 

When a student applies to Stanford, each piece of the application is treated as part of an integrated and comprehensive whole. We look at achievement within each individual student’s context, and no portion of the application is considered without the rest. Academic excellence is our primary criterion for admission, and all students who are admitted to Stanford meet the university’s admission standards; there are no exceptions.

We welcome each year a group of incredibly accomplished students who reflect astonishing diversity, in all dimensions. Our strong program of need-based financial aid plays a central role in providing accessibility for students of all financial means. We believe the diversity in background and experience of our entering class each year adds immeasurably to the education of all of our students. To get a sense of this diversity, you can view data on the characteristics of last year’s admitted class in the box accompanying this post (on mobile devices, scroll to the bottom).

The vast majority of students who apply to and are admitted to Stanford each year have no previous connection to the university. As well, we’re proud to welcome to Stanford each year many “first-generation” college attendees, whose parents do not hold a bachelor’s degree. In the undergraduate Class of 2023, which entered Stanford last fall, 18.5% of our enrolling students were first-generation.

We also receive applications from students whose families do have some form of existing connection to Stanford. Over the last year there has been a great deal of national interest in two categories of college applicants: (1) “legacy” students who are the children of alumni and/or (2) the children of those who have contributed philanthropically to a university. Stanford is reporting data to the state Legislature today on the admission of these categories of applicants for the Class of 2023. 

At Stanford, “legacy” applicants are defined as the children of Stanford graduates at either the undergraduate or graduate level. With respect to philanthropy, Stanford does not document in admission files the donor status of all applicants’ families. However, some applicants’ files may contain a notation about their family’s giving. In the large majority of these cases, the parents of the applicants are also graduates of Stanford. Philanthropy plays a significant role in supporting the opportunities available to all students at Stanford, including the ability to attend the university through our program of need-based financial aid.

In the undergraduate Class of 2023, which was admitted for Fall 2019 entrance, 16.2% of the enrolling class (302 admitted students and 276 matriculating students) were the children of Stanford graduates. For some of these students, their admission files also noted a history of philanthropy. An additional 1.5% of the enrolling class (34 admitted students and 26 matriculating students) had no legacy affiliation with Stanford, but their admission files noted a history of philanthropy. Together, those with either of these two characteristics totaled 302 students in the enrolling class, representing 17.8% of our 1,701 entering students. 

In our holistic review process, these applicants are evaluated based on the totality of their attributes and accomplishments, as all other applicants to the university are. If an applicant to Stanford is not highly competitive academically, an existing family connection or historical giving to the university mean nothing in the process.

We work each year to help alumni families understand that, because of the volume of applications we receive, most applicants to Stanford unfortunately cannot be admitted. In addition, our development office takes active steps to prevent donors from making a gift to Stanford with any expectation that the gift will influence the admission process, and that understanding is codified in our gift policies.

We welcome to Stanford each year students whose families are already a part of Stanford’s history, and we welcome, in far greater numbers, new members of our community who are beginning new traditions with us. Together they form an inspiring and diverse class of students from all over the world and all walks of life, contributing in countless varied ways to the educational experience we aspire to offer our students.