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Access admission records with FERPA

Anonymous student-run online newsletter the Fountain Hopper posted the results of an investigation into the inner workings of Stanford admissions in January. Their exploration of what has long been deemed the “black box” of admissions showed that students have a right to more information than previously thought.

“The things they write [in the admission’s notes] – it’s clear that they never expect them to be read,” said the Fountain Hopper. “They’re very frank.”

Just a few short weeks after FoHo released the results of their request, over 1,000 Stanford students have begun digging deeper into their files.

“Stanford has to review any requests that may have been submitted over the three-day weekend [Jan. 17-19],” said Stanford Associate Vice President for University Communications Lisa Lapin. “Stanford administrators are just getting to work now.”

The 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA] protects the privacy of student education records.

Accepted and enrolled students may request their personal student records under FERPA. These include admissions notes given by admissions officers, numerical scores those officers assigned them on a range of factors and recommendation letters written by high school teachers and counselors. The university is legally obligated to release the information they have on file to the student within 45 days of filing the request.

Students across the country are taking the charge to request the information their university has recorded on them. Harvard, Yale and MIT have begun receiving more student requests than in the prior years.

“This could pull the curtain back on a very secretive process, exposing things that the colleges never wanted anyone to see,” said independent educational consultant Janet Rosier.

Colleges have long been prepared for FERPA appeals, said former University of Virginia Associate Dean of Admissions Parker P. Muth in The Harvard Crimson.

Despite negative repercussions that may accompany such a large quantity of students requesting their records, the heart behind the Fountain Hopper’s newsletter is clear; provide equality to the admissions process.

“The philosophy we approach this with is that if you go to a good private [high] school or your parents are rich enough to have college counselors or college consultants, these are people that work inside admission offices,” said a Fountain Hopper staff member. “When they review applications for all the students before they apply, they know exactly what to look for.”

Students who come from less fortunate backgrounds or attend a school with less resources are often left in the dark about what is required for college admission.

“College admission is extremely important for success in the world that we are in,” the staff member said. “We believe in the admission process, but everyone should have an equal right to the information that happens inside that black box.”

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