Two years after pulling an acceptance letter from a generic blue folder, sophomore Anna Thompson sat in Carleton’s admissions office, before a folder.
It held three pages that documented the reasoning behind her admission to Carleton.
“Do I really want to know?” she wondered for a split second, then set aside her concern. “I figured that Carleton already admitted me,” she said. “I wasn’t worried.”
Since January, hundreds of college students have requested their admissions records, with help from a recently popularized section of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974.
The act allows students to access any personal information held by their colleges. When asked, colleges must provide this information to students within 45 days.
The recent wave of FERPA requests began at Stanford, where the authors of a student newsletter urged students to request their admissions records. They hoped to shed light on Stanford’s murky admissions process.
“Have you ever wondered… what impact your legacy status, athletic abilities, ethnicity, and demographics had on your application?” they asked rhetorically.
Within the next month, hundreds of students at Stanford, Yale, Duke and other colleges had requested their records.
Since February, a dozen Carleton students have requested information from the office of admissions (Full disclosure: At least six of them are Carletonian staff), according to Paul Thiboutot, dean of admissions and financial aid.
He said two admissions staff members read each Carleton application, then rate and comment on aspects of the applications, such as recommendation letters, grades and extracurricular experiences. The rubrics they use, as well as interview notes, have been provided to students.
Colleges aren’t required to document their admissions processes, but Carleton’s admissions office hasn’t gotten around to deleting many admissions rubrics and interview records, Dean Thiboutot said. It’s all kept online, so it doesn’t take up office space.When Thompson opened her folder, she remembered the factors she had emphasized in her application: International Baccalaureate credits and a long ballet career.
To her surprise, her readers seemed to have overlooked these golden nuggets. They commended, instead, her dedication to weekly piano lessons, from first grade to seventh grade.
“They wrote, ‘So much commitment!’” Thompson said. “That was funny.”
Dean Thiboutot said FERPA requests could reveal only a superficial layer of Carleton’s admissions process. Reasons for acceptance vary from student to student. This is, in fact, a necessary condition of a diverse campus.
What’s more, general questions, such as ‘Do rich kids have an easier time getting into Carleton?’, require aggregated data. The images offered by FERPA are necessarily fragmented.
The requests themselves haven’t caused much concern for the admissions staff, Dean Thiboutot said.
But at other colleges, such as Stanford and Yale, staff have bemoaned the flood of additional work. They have also expressed concerns that a more transparent admissions process would discourage staff members from making frank assessments of student applications. So, they have begun to delete student records so they aren’t obligated to turn them over to students.