Unlike most Penn first years on the first day of class, I didn't think about my dreaded 8:30 a.m. seminar. Rather, I coined Aug. 29 as the first day that I could request access to my file from Penn Admissions.
In 2015, Stanford University publicized a method for college students to access their admissions files by leveraging the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which legally requires universities to grant students access to their records. Since then, many institutions have adapted their processes of sharing information with students. At Penn, there is a page on the admissions website dedicated to FERPA requests.
For me, the process was simple: I entered my information and began a waiting game. 34 days later, on Oct. 2, I received my file through Penn’s secured sharing website. The file contained a copy of my Common App, followed by my final high school transcript. The first page, though, held all the new content from the admissions office.
The top of the page said my name, College of Arts and Sciences, 2023 regular decision, and admit. Then, in addition to my senior year course load and my ACT score, there were Penn’s four numeric ratings. The academic index rating aggregates applicants’ GPA and test scores, and was measured out of 240. Following that were the POK (pursuit of knowledge), C (contribution), and P (purpose) ratings, which were all scored out of 6. These metrics were new for the Class of 2027, after Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule made some adjustments to the application.
Files also included a list of indicators, including "Legacy" and "First Generation," among others. With your file, Penn Admissions also provided a document that explained each metric in more detail.
All Penn students should take five minutes and submit a FERPA request. So far, everyone else that I’ve introduced the process to have been excited to fill out the online form. For students, the process of applying to college was mentally and emotionally taxing. Many still care about the work that got them accepted into a prestigious college. Just being curious to understand college admission decisions motivates students to look into their records.
Coming to Penn, I knew I wanted access to my file. So, during NSO, I made it a point to visit the admissions office’s visitor center to inquire about my request. The students working there provided me with the request link, but they also told me that “it would just give [me] numbers” and that “there was no real point” in submitting the request. Their statements made me significantly more curious to read what Penn had to say.
As you may have observed by now, I wasn’t provided much qualitative feedback. For the most part, that was completely intentional. After FERPA requests became a popularized practice, Penn Admissions began to purposely limit most of their notes in an effort to maintain mystery around their process.
There was some truth to the students' advice. In hindsight, written feedback would have been nice. However, I do not regret reading my file. After going through the process myself, I can confidently say that it’s worthwhile.
Finding the information is easy. After a short online form, students really can learn so much. The action also reminds our admissions team that their actions impact the way our campus operates. Their decisions alter people’s lives. Many of us dedicated years of hard work to prepare our applications to Penn, and we deserve transparency from our university.
Some students neglect to look at their files in fear that they’d find low ratings. But, no matter what your file says, remember that you were given a place at Penn for a reason. The numeric rating system isn’t even a metric that admissions officers use to make ultimate decisions; rather, they are a simple way to make notes about an applicant.
Even if you have little interest in the admissions process, I still urge you to submit the form. At the very least, sending a FERPA request conveys a strong message to the admissions office: the information in an application is meaningful and tied to a real, living person.
JACK LAKIS is a College first year studying political science from Kennesaw, Ga. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.