After being accepted to Elon University, many students get wrapped up in celebration and don’t consider why there were accepted. What many don’t know is that they can, under a provision of the Family Educational Right and Privacy Act (FERPA), gain access to their own admissions records. These records can offer clues to the thinking behind a potentially murky process.
Students across the country realized they could request access to their admissions materials in January when The Fountain Hopper, an anonymous newsletter published by a group of Stanford University students, explained some of the difficulties with getting access to admissions records. Only people enrolled at Stanford could see their records, so rejected applicants could not find out why they were turned down.
As a freshman fresh out of the admissions experience and interested to see what exactly about me stood out among the stacks of Elon applications, I asked about my own records. The response came quickly and painlessly, just one day later.
Other freshmen who want to investigate their application materials can follow the same steps I did:
Step One: Putting in the request
The first step to viewing admissions files is emailing the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the university registrar. In the email, plainly request access to any documents held by the office in your name.
The response email — which according to FERPA must come within the next 45 days — will invite you to go to the registrar’s office to schedule a time to look at your admissions information from one of the office computers.
Step Two: Viewing the records
The information you will be able to see will depend on your class year. The older students get, the more information they can obtain — that is, files can get added as a student gets progresses through college. While the admissions materials, including the application, are available to freshmen, the academic record grows over the course of a student’s college career, expanding the number of documents a student can access.
For example, the overall academic record files store pass/fails and withdrawals, which acculumate through the years. Although there weren’t as many files I could see as an upperclassman, I still found value from looking at my records.
Admissions evaluators don’t comment directly on applications. According to Rodney Parks, the university registrar, counselors stopped keeping any written records more than a decade ago, so students can only view their electronic record, including their application, letters of recommendation and high school transcript.
With a lack of comments, the most revealing information becomes the sections of applications materials that admissions officials highlighted. These sections might include information about deadline selection, age at high school grauation, race, leadership positions held, activities you might continue in college, and sections of personal essays.
Step Three: Recognizing limitations
FERPA goes into effect once a student officially begins classes. As a result, notes that disappear before the first day of classes won’t make their way into student-accessible records, according to Parks.
Since the request is only available to students once they arrive to Elon, rejected applicants aren’t guaranteed access to their admissions records.
Also, the process for some students might be lengthier than mine. Because Elon has a finite amount of staff members in the registrar’s office and few computers with student access to admissions records, getting access could take a bit of time.