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Study finds wealthy students have admissions advantage at Dartmouth, other Ivies

 A student walks across the Dartmouth campus.
Ali Oshinskie
A student walks across the Dartmouth campus.

A new study finds students from the wealthiest families are far more likely to attend Ivy League schools than less affluent peers — and that advantage was especially pronounced at Dartmouth.

Students from families in the top 1% — that is, those earning more than $611,000 a year — were more than twice as likely to attend Dartmouth compared to other students with the same test scores. The study found the admissions edge grew even more pronounced at the highest income levels: Students in the top 0.1% were 4.4 times as likely to attend.

The study showed similar patterns at other Ivy League and elite universities: Students from the 1% were 55% more likely to be admitted to those schools than middle class applicants.

The research comes from a group called Opportunity Insights, which is based out of Harvard University. It examines admissions at a range of colleges, both private and public.

According to the study, public universities do not show the same level of preference for wealthier students. At University of New Hampshire, students in the 1% did not appear to have a clear admissions advantage over others with the same test scores.

The study looked at several causes for the discrepancy in admissions and found athletic admissions and legacy status to be major factors in why wealthier students got preference across elite colleges. Non-academic characteristics, like a student’s recommendation letters and extracurriculars, also helped wealthy students in the application process.

Legacy status, in particular, was found to be a major contributing factor to wealthier students getting preference for admissions across a dozen “Ivy Plus” colleges: the Ivy League schools, plus the University of Chicago, Duke University, MIT and Stanford University. Even within students with legacy status, there was a preference for higher income applicants.

Dartmouth said legacy preference was just one of many factors considered in the application process.

“Legacy families represent a wide range of incomes and backgrounds. More than 40% of legacy applicants for the incoming class also applied for financial aid,” said the college in a statement. “Dartmouth is grateful to have an increasingly diverse alumni body that makes for an increasingly diverse group of legacy applicants.”

They did not offer any additional comment on the study’s findings about the advantages available to wealthier students more broadly.

According to the college’s admissions office, 1 in 10 students in Dartmouth’s class of 2026 are legacies.

Dartmouth tuition costs about $80,000 a year, and about half of students get financial aid. Last year, the college said it was eliminating student loans in favor of scholarships in its financial aid packages for undergraduates.

Brandon Mioduszewski, a sophomore at Dartmouth who has written about his experience as a first-generation low-income student, said the impact of wealth at the college is subtle but noticeable.

“If you grew up in a low income background, or not coming from money, you’re gonna come to Dartmouth and you’re gonna sense that something’s different,” Mioduszewski said. “Something’s different in the way that people talk and the things that people talk about, the things that people do for fun, in the music people listen to.”

But, Mioduszewski said he’s unsure if Dartmouth’s campus culture is unique in that capacity.

“Historically, most people who go to universities and higher education come from more money,” Mioduszewski said. “I don’t think Dartmouth’s exceptional in that way.”