Every September a fresh crop of starry-eyed high school seniors sit down to their computers and begin to fill out the Common Application. They check boxes, they write essays about their grandmas and they panic.
Around January these seniors will lose a bit of the twinkle in their eyes as they are accepted to some schools and rejected from others. The mailbox looms in the front yard— the keeper of both good and bad news, big and small envelopes.
Once that acceptance letter finally comes, no one gives much thought to the closed-door process that leads to the decision. And once they are settled into their new schools, the Common Application is far from many college students’ minds.
However, efforts made by a group of students at Stanford University are opening up these admissions files for perusal under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Ever wonder what BC admissions officers thought of that essay about Grandma? Curious about the notes they wrote on your Common App? Want to see what your high school chemistry teacher really said in that letter of recommendation? Legally, you have the right to know. You own those files.
Stanford students working for an anonymous school publication, The Fountain Hopper, discovered that, under FERPA, federal law prohibits withholding personal educational records from students. Educational records that happen to include those top-secret admission files and scribbles from admissions officers.
Not only are universities required to hand over these files, but they must do so within a time period of 45 days to be in compliance with the law.
The Fountain Hopper has urged students at Stanford to all request their own admissions records—so far, they estimate that over 700 requests have been filed at the California university alone.
“We think that admission to a university such as Stanford is a process that is biased towards those that are in the know,” said The Fountain Hopper in an email to Buzzfeed. “Everyone has a right to know what goes on in the black box."
At Boston College, the FERPA implications could also potentially help students access other personal educational files that would affect them after graduation.
“Currently, it is relatively unclear which conduct violations (administrative warning, disciplinary probation, university probation etc.) get sent to graduate schools or jobs,” said Thomas Napoli, chair of the Institutional Policy Review Committee for UGBC, A&S ’16.
Nailing down these particulars is part of UGBC’s on-going process of rewriting the student guide with the Dean of Students Office.
“When I asked the Dean of Students Office for clarification—as conduct violations could presumably effect admissions or the job search—I was told that the Dean of Students Office works with individual juniors and seniors to manage what gets sent… and what doesn’t,” said Napoli.
At other universities, where the matter of race in admissions is taking center stage, FERPA could provide insights into the universities’ skewed acceptance policies.
While admission files are only available from schools at which the applicant was accepted, the implications for this loophole in college admissions are staggering—already schools like Harvard University are facing lawsuit charges for allegedly discriminating against Asian-American applicants. Opening the admissions files to students would provide prosecutors with more fuel to take on the universities in court.
With regards to Boston College, which was voted 8th worst in the country for racial interactions according to the Princeton Review, requesting admissions access could provide a more in-depth look at the process of who does, and doesn’t, make the cut to be an Eagle.