Those private admissions records may not stay private much longer

Students leverage FERPA to get copies of admissions files

A group of students at Stanford University are throwing a wrench into the college admissions system: They're requesting their admissions records, a tactic that may bring reams of confidential materials into the public eye.

The anonymous Stanford students leveraged provisions in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to request the documents and published a how-to guide online for others looking to do the same. However, there are many sensitive documents in an admissions office, including critiques by admissions officers, comments on the role of an applicant's race, and other deliberative documents—essentially anything in an admissions file.

Under FERPA, students have a right to obtain copies of their application materials, although many applicants waive their right to view letters of recommendation. At Stanford, students only need to send a properly formatted request to the admissions department to get them. Legally, schools must respond within 45 days.

Background on FERPA

Since the guide was posted online, hundreds of Stanford students have requested their records.

Stanford officials say they are committed to transparency. "We think that admission to a university such as Stanford is a process that is biased towards those that are in the know," reads a statement by the school. "Everyone has a right to know what goes on in the black box."

Writing in Forbes, Troy Onink argues that more transparency in college admissions could have big implications for the industry. "In the ultra-competitive and often ridiculous world of elite college admissions, I can already see parents eager to buy the personal records of students who were admitted to elite universities," he writes.

While the long-term implications are uncertain, students seem eager to peer inside the 'black box'. "It caused such a stir on campus," observes Tristan Navarro, a Stanford freshman (Hensley-Clancy, BuzzFeed, 1/16; Onink, Forbes, 1/19).

The takeaway: More students are leveraging FERPA to request access to previously secretive admissions materials.

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