Last week, a widely publicized discovery by a group of Stanford students turned Penn's college admissions office upside-down.
When a group of Stanford students publicized a method of obtaining one's admissions file, Penn's admissions office saw an explosion of requests for access to their files.
The students, who run an anonymous newsletter called the Fountain Hopper, recently gained access to their admissions files through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Under FERPA, universities must release educational records to accepted students who request them within 45 days. These records include parts of the application like teacher recommendations, as well as comments made by admissions officers. Students who did not gain admission to a university are not eligible to request their files.
Previously, the Penn admissions office received approximately five requests to view applicant files per year. In the week since the Stanford students publicized the opportunity to access files, it has received over 20 — already four times the yearly average.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda spoke about the admissions office’s response to this “avalanche” of requests. While the University must comply with FERPA, Furda plans to remove certain personal comments from applicants’ files before granting students access, particularly comments referencing other applicants or specific school groups. Per FERPA's stipulations, admissions offices need only release information explicitly about the applicant requesting documents.
“If there’s anything personal that we need to redact within any of the notes that we have, we will do that,” Furda said.
If the University continues to receive a high volume of requests, the admissions office may enact significant changes in the way it handles admissions files, balancing a goal of respecting students and a need for honest conversation about applications.
“What you want to make sure of is that [admissions officers] can have open dialogue while you’re trying to admit a class,” Furda said.
Furda also noted that the growing trend of students requesting to view admissions files may spark changes in other institutions' admissions processes, as well as at Penn.
“It will make admission offices across the country take a look at everything we do,” he said.
Incoming freshman Janice Hur, who was accepted early decision, said that she would consider requesting to see her admissions file.
Hur believes that increased transparency would force admissions offices to discontinue practices such as judging applicants based on more subjective factors, such as race.
“Once students are given the right through FERPA to access these documents, I think admissions officers will be kind of forced to change their method,” she said. “How they choose or reject students would change drastically."
Incoming freshman Neel Daugherty-Shrivastava, who was also accepted early decision, believes that giving accepted students access to their admissions files would negatively affect the application process.
“Students shouldn’t see that information because then they stop pursuing their passions and their dreams, which colleges really want to see, and they start worrying about numbers and different admissions requirements or factors,” Daugherty-Shrivastava said.
For students who wish to view their admissions files, The Fountain Hopper's website offers sample letters that can be sent to college admissions offices and instructions for completing the process.
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