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College Admissions Secrets Revealed

Have you ever wondered exactly what college admissions officers are looking for in an applicant and the reasons why they accept, wait-list, or reject students?

College admissions secrets revealed
A group of savvy students from Stanford University were wondering this very thing and believe it or not, they found the answers they were looking for quite easily.

College Parenting Expert, Wendy David-Gaines, shares what they found out and important information about the federal FERPA law that all parents need to read and understand. 

Don’t know what FERPA stands for? Read this to find out and stay informed:


It turns out it’s a cinch to discover the secrets held inside college admission records, some Stanford students have unveiled. All parents and students have to do is ask and colleges will reveal the details like an Admission Officer’s evaluation of an essay, numerical valuations assigned to a student based on different factors, and other admission application assessments like how the student interview. The simple method the group of Stanford students used is making a request under the federal law FERPA  according to BuzzFeed News. Although the access to confidential education records law is not new, applying it to admission records is.

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act which gives students and parents the right to access student education records.

It dates back to 1974 and has since been amended several times. High school records include transcripts, disciplinary reports, and school counselor/teacher recommendation letters that are sent to a list of colleges upon the college-bound’s request. In turn, the colleges create a file for prospective students adding demonstrated interest from student contact, admission applications, and test scores. As applications are reviewed, further analysis by Admission Officers takes place including qualitative and quantitative assessments, demographics data, personal qualities, interview records, e-mails, notes, memoranda, and other documentary material.

Colleges are required to make a student’s education records available for inspection within 45 days of the request without a fee. Copies must be provided when inspection is problematic like the student lives too far away to commute to the school. Fees then are permitted under FERPA.

In response to their request, an anonymous group of Stanford students involved with The Fountain Hopper, a new independent publication by Stanford students for Stanford students, saw in their own files “comments by admissions officers, criticisms of their applications, and information about how their status as minorities, athletes, or legacies affected their applications,” BuzzFeed News reported. They ask got a peek at recommendation letters if students didn’t waive their rights to see them as many high schools require or when completing the Common Application.

Now the staff of The Fountain Hopper is letting students nationwide in on how they gained access so other college students can do it, too.

Non-matriculated students including those who were admitted but failed to accept, those on the waitlist, and those whose admission applications were rejected may or may not gain access. The same goes for requests from alumni. It may depend on what records are maintained for such students and for how long they are kept. Prospective students must deal with the issue of how a FERPA request will impact the admission decision, too.

Parents may request both their own education records from their alma mater as well as access to their student’s records under certain circumstances. Once a student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, rights under FERPA transfer from parents to students. However, a school may disclose any education records including financial records to the student’s parents without the student’s consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent’s status as a custodial parent is relevant. Independent students may provide consent.

Gaining insight into the college admissions process is not the only bonus FERPA offers. It also gives students the right to request the correction of any inaccurate or misleading information. This doesn’t include an individual’s opinion or a substantive decision made by a school about the student.

Parents and students curious about the inner workings of the college admission process now have a chance to find out from their own education records. But they should act quickly. The frankness of the admission officers in the records received by the Stanford students indicates they were not expected to be requested for release.

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Going forward, Admissions Offices may change the way they interact with prospective students’ education records and how long such information is kept. This may derail The Fountain Hopper hopes to demystify the process.

Thank you, Wendy!

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