April 14, 2015

Students review University’s comments on their college applications

Since January, a growing number of UChicago students are requesting to view their admissions records in accordance with FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

FERPA is a federal law enacted in 1973 that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to schools funded in some form by the Department of Education. It regulates parents’ ability to access their children’s records. Once students turn 18, they may grant their parents access to these records, but may also request the records themselves. While the law is used primarily by parents to access their children’s school transcripts, one of the law’s provisions grants students the right to request to view their admissions files or any other files that a school holds about them. The University must comply with the request within 45 days of receiving it. 

Third-year Sasha Chhabra filed a request with the College admissions office to view his files in January. In his request, he referenced the law’s provision granting the rights to view the files. 

He was “curious” to view his records, he said, after reading about a group of students at Stanford who exercised their FERPA rights to see their admissions records earlier in the school year. These records include admissions officers’ written assessments of students’ applications to UChicago.

“I was given an appointment with the deans,” Chhabra explained, “and was given a censored photocopy of the file to peruse...I was not allowed any electronics, but was allowed to take notes.”

According to the notes Chhabra took on the file, the applications have two readers each. The readers use various ranking systems to evaluate the student on academic, personal, and intellectual bases with relation to their application as a whole. They separately evaluate the students’ extracurricular activities, essays, and interview.

They also comment extensively on the students’ applications.

The second reader of Chhabra's application wrote: “I get sort of a ‘that kid’ vibe from him. But knowing that he is socially confident makes the application look a lot better.”

The readers deemed his essay “a little wordy but good.” They wrote that because he is “deeply intellectual,” he would be a good fit for the school.

According to the University’s student manual, after submitting requests, students discuss their request with someone from the Office of Campus and Student Life to determine which records they will be allowed to see. The University admissions office did not release the exact number of students who have submitted requests.

Since the Stanford students published their findings about using FERPA rights in January, students from schools across the country, have requested to see their records, including students from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

The University did not respond to requests for comment.