It’s the law: FERPA gives students access to their admissions files

With the help of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, the mystery of admissions files are unveiled.

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It’s the law: FERPA gives students access to their admissions files

Photo by Mohammed F Emran | Web Editor

Photo by Mohammed F Emran | Web Editor

Photo by Mohammed F Emran | Web Editor

Photo by Mohammed F Emran | Web Editor

Ryan Lynch, Contributing Writer

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How a federal law can give you access to what’s inside your admissions file.

Remember how you felt during the college admissions process — all the fear of being rejected from your top school along with the worry of what your high school teachers wrote in your letters of recommendation? Or why admissions might have picked you? The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act can help answer your questions and put your residual worries to rest.
Enacted in 1974, FERPA is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of a student’s education records, including transcripts and admissions files. These files can be accessed by a student if requested from the admissions office.

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By requesting these files, a student can see comments from admissions officers, criticisms of their application, and how their status as a legacy (if you have family alumni history), athlete or minority may have affected the admission process.
“I didn’t know we could do that,” said Florida Atlantic freshman and
pre-business major Derek Donev. “I’d like to see if they said anything interesting. Usually you only hear about the acceptance or rejection.”
I was also unaware that you could do this, and after going through the stress of waiting for a college admission myself, I wanted to see what the file said. So, like any curious student, I requested my admissions file.
All it took was a short email conversation with an admissions representative, in my case Mary Edmunds, to gain access to my files. She took about a day to reply to my request, asking whether or not I wanted my admissions file or transcript (transcripts are available through MyFAU), and the file was available five days after sending the first email.
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Being straightforward and professional is the way to go when trying to obtain your file. Here is a simplified version of FERPA’s suggested template that I used:

Hello,

I was wondering if I could have access to all files pertaining to my admission at Florida Atlantic held by FAU’s Office of Admissions. Under the Family Education and Rights and Privacy Act, I understand I’m allowed to ask for admissions files to be released to me. I also understand FERPA prohibits an imposition of fines for said documents. If you hold back any documents or information, I would like a written explanation as to why they are being withheld.

Thank you very much,
Your Name Here
Z-number

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The brown envelope sat on the admissions office front desk for me, holding the answers to the musings of my high school senior mind. And while it didn’t cost any money for the files themselves, there was a $1.50 copy fee payable by check or money order only. I did not know this and had to go to the BB&T on campus — I ended up paying $5 for a $1.50 money order.

On the first page, you see the Office of Admissions evaluation sheet presenting the criteria that officers judge applications with — SAT scores, high school credit hours, class rank and grade point average.

“Admission to the freshman class is competitive and based largely on the potential for success in university-level coursework as evidenced by academic performance and student aptitude,” said James Capp, the assistant provost for academic operations at FAU. “Character and student conduct are also considered.”

There were also sections to denote if you are a first generation college student, legacy or planning to participate in college sports. Lastly, a comment section was at the bottom of the page for additional notes.

The rest of the pages included materials sent in during the application process like transcripts and letters of recommendation. I had not seen the letters before getting the file, and it was interesting to read and see what my teachers wrote about me. Lastly, included in the back of the file were documents from the college like requests for minor and major changes and accepted financial aid offers from the school.

Two things glaringly absent from the evaluation sheet were race and gender. This is notable, as the role race plays on college applications is controversial in academia.

Last year, Harvard received a lawsuit because of allegations of race-based application processes and discrimination against Asian applicants.

The lawsuit alleged that Harvard admissions held Asian applicants to a higher standard than white applicants. As a private school, Harvard’s admission process by nature is more secretive and selective than a public university like FAU.

“I feel like someone shouldn’t be judged by their race or gender,” said Monica Hester, a freshman nursing student on the application process. “Everyone should get a fair chance.”

FAU is ranked as the most diverse school in Florida’s state university system. Minority and international students make up 49 percent of our student body, according to the State University System of Florida’s website.

“FAU has a longstanding tradition of serving the local area and recruiting throughout our diverse South Florida community – but applicants must have a proven track record of academic success in order to obtain admission.” Capp stated.

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You can request your own admissions file by emailing [email protected] Make sure that you include your Z-number in the email for identification purposes.

FERPA mandates that you must be given your documents in a maximum of 45 days, but based on my experience, it shouldn’t take that long.

When you are emailed that your file is prepared, make sure you fill out a check or money order in the proper amount for the copy fee paid to the order of FAU Admissions. go to the undergraduate admissions office located on the first floor of the Student Services building to pick it up.