Every Amherst student has something special that got them accepted into this school in the first place. There are any number of things that can help someone get in, from the mundane such as good grades to the extraordinary like being a ballroom dancer. Each Amherst student has some great quality that helped them land here: most students have much more than just one. There is, however, one qualification that plays a major role in admissions that no student has any control over, and that is being a legacy. You can’t practice hard to become a legacy like you can with athletics, you can’t learn to be a legacy like you might with a language and you certainly can’t study hard to become a legacy as you would to get good grades. Nobody makes it into college based solely on the fact that they are a legacy, of course, but at the same time, the idea that such a significant factor in whether or not someone gets into a school is based purely on luck of the draw can really change one’s view of the college experience.
Confession time; I’m a legacy. I was one of those people who reaped the benefits of having a parent, in my case a father, who walked this campus before him. It was helpful when I was applying to schools to have someone around who was so knowledgeable about one in particular. Not to mention, the interview I got at the school was what finally convinced me to apply for early decision. I was really lucky to have a parent who guided me to this college. But, just as most of the other things that get one into Amherst don’t simply fade away once a student walks into his first-year dorm, the impact of being a legacy wasn’t gone either.
Think about one of the most iconic moments for a college first-year, showing your parents around campus. It’s very much like the guided tours given out by the school, but just like those tours the idea is not so much to familiarize a group of people with the area as it is to show off. You walk around the freshmen quad pointing out the buildings and the library and talking about how wonderful it all is, and, in truth, it’s just gloating. It’s a way of saying “I worked my butt off to make it here and look at the reward I’m getting.” This little show is a quintessential part of the college experience, and, as a legacy, you don’t get it. The experience is quite the opposite actually. During my first day on campus my father actually showed me around. Although it’s very cool to walk around and hear old stories about college from one of your parents, it almost feels as though your thunder is being stolen. It’s still a little bit disconcerting that I’ve been here for a semester yet both of my parents are still more familiar with the area than I am.
None of this is to say that being a legacy is all bad once you’re in college. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. The college experience is a defining factor in all of our lives. No one will leave the grounds of Amherst College the same person that they were when they arrived. The ability to share, at least in part, such a monumental time in your life with a parent that went through many of the same things is something that is truly special. And it isn’t just special for the students. For parents, their children really are a legacy — something they leave behind that carries on their ways and teachings. Many parents find it hard to leave their children out in what they perceive to be the wilderness that is college. To have a bond like a shared school with them is something truly invaluable that can make of for the many miles that separate us from them physically.
The dichotomy between the good and the bad isn’t just restricted to a legacy’s interactions with his parents however. Whether your parents went to Amherst or not, you have to interact with legacies on a daily basis on campus. In classes, on the quad or at Val we are everywhere. With a group that comprises so much of the college, one would think that there would be a generally accepted view towards legacies; the truth, however, is quite the opposite.
As a matter of fact, you’ll find many people with views on legacies that are positive, negative and neutral. To some, being a legacy is something to be truly proud of. They feel that following in a parent’s footsteps is a wonderful thing. To others, the entire situation is neither here nor there. The final group is where things get dicey. I have yet to encounter anyone who is outwardly disgusted by the idea of legacies. However, many people resent the fact that some of their classmates were given an unearned edge in the admissions process. This sentiment much more often shows itself in jokes about the concept than outright accusations, but the feeling is undoubtedly still present. In the end, everyone is going to have different opinions on the topic because of its controversial nature. What really matters as a legacy is being able to take anything on the subject in stride and continue forward with the confidence that you earned your way into one of America’s top colleges.
Getting into college is tough. Succeeding in college is even tougher. Nobody can get through it all alone. We have people around us that can pick us up when we’re down and lend a hand when we’re in need. This is true whether you’re a legacy or not. We all follow the words of the Beatles and “Get by with a little help from [our] friends.” But the true joy of being a legacy, is that you can get that help from your parents too.