Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Pamela L Eddy

Committee Member

Virginia M Ambler

Committee Member

Judith B Harris


The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of the perceptions of a group of legacy students regarding their experiences at a public, more selective institution. Selective institutions have a long history of providing preferential admission review of legacy students. Legacy students are often admitted to selective institutions with lower standardized test scores and lower high school academic achievement than their peers. However, little research exists on how legacy students experience college, in particular their levels of self-efficacy and engagement. My study employed a phenomenological research approach, using a theoretical framework of Bean and Eaton’s (2002) psychological model of college student retention. Data were generated with 16 participants at a more selective, public institution, on their perceptions of their legacy status, self-efficacy, and engagement, and the relationships among these three factors on their college experience. All participants expressed ways in which their legacy status had impacted their collegiate experience. I found that these students felt their legacy status most strongly during admission to the institution, but also when engaging with their family, other legacies, or at legacy-specific events hosted by the institution. While participants did not perceive their legacy status as a large part of their overall college experience, it did play a contributing role in their self-efficacy and engagement. Their experiences at the institution and their own experiences as legacies impacted their perceptions of how they intended to engage with their own children and the institution as alumni. Contrary to prior research on legacy students that highlights the deficits of legacy students in college settings, this research found that this group of students did not question their ability to be successful at their selective university.Keywords: legacy student, self-efficacy, engagement, persistence




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