my own admission may strike you as
unfair. I was a good student with so-so
SAT scores; an in-state admit from an out-of-state public high school — the unusual
result of my parents’ move to Raleigh from
my native West Virginia when I was 16. (I
lived with my aunt until I graduated.)
I was not only a first-generation Carolina student; I was a first-generation college student. This was the legacy I brought
to Chapel Hill: My father, the son of a
Pennsylvania Railroad inspector, learned
electrical engineering in the Navy and was
a programmer for 30 years at IBM. My
mother, the daughter of a West Virginia
coal mine operator and one of seven children, worked in bookkeeping until she
became a homemaker. They are smart
people, practical people, people who
fought for and valued their children’s education, people who led much different
lives than me, at every respective stage of
youth. College was expected of me; it was
not of them. Did their influence show in
my application? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I found a new
home here, combined a new legacy with
the old, and I was the better for their sum.
Born, no; bred, absolutely. I will forever
be magnetized to the same familial pockets
and folds and relationships that enveloped
me and welcomed me and made me one
of their own 20 years ago. If I were to
meet the admissions director who made
this so for me, I would no doubt hug him
… or at least shake his hand vigorously.
It’s that emotion that caused me to
point to that bassinet seven years ago with
my Carolina dictate.
Everyone has a life story. At some
point, that story becomes an admissions
tale, sifted like sand and rock for gold. No
one, including me, wants her children to
be labeled silver. Twenty years ago, it mattered who I was on my UNC application.
A decade from now, should it matter who
I am on my daughter’s?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
see the approaches as consistent in that
they recognize that there are a lot of reasons why a young person might be a great
candidate for Carolina. Not just one reason. Not just two. Not just GPA, not just
SAT score. Not just where you went to
high school. Not just that you are the son
or daughter of an alumnus or an alumna.
Not just that you grew up in a household
where people had to live hand-to-mouth
and where there weren’t new books, and
yet you still managed to pull yourself up.
All of those can be compelling reasons for
us to welcome someone here.
“If people really want to take everything
out of it except one or two numbers, I
don’t think they’ll like the result,” he said.
“That would be the fair and predictable
quota system that works against everybody
and that everybody hates. I don’t think
anybody would want to go to a school full
of people who had been admitted based on
GPA or test score alone. We’d have a more
predictable admissions process here; we
wouldn’t have the messiness with how
legacy comes into play for out-of-state students. But we’d be the poorer place for it.”
‘I don’t think
We’d have a
want to go
to a school full
who had been
on GPA or
test score alone.
comes into play
But we’d be
the poorer place
BETH MCNICHOL ’ 95 is a former associate
editor of the Review and a freelance writer
based in Durham.
Now, the second generation
If you had a son or daughter who
applied for the freshman class of fall 1991
and did not gain acceptance to Carolina,
ONLINE: Legacies at Carolina was the subject
of Doug Dibbert’s “Yours at Carolina” column in
the March/April 2011 issue, available online at