I haven’t had either enough sleep or enough caffeine to write a thoughtful and interesting blog post this Thursday, so I’ll try to put out a useful one instead: please enjoy this guide to getting access to your college admissions records.
I got this idea from a lovely Buzzfeed article about how Stanford students did the same thing. It’s titled “Here’s How to See What College Admissions Officers Wrote About You”, which is more or less accurate: along with your grades, Common App essay, supplementary materials, and resume, your admissions records contain your teachers’ letters of rec and the comments from college admissions officers.
This guide is specific to NYU, which of course is the university that I attend, and it contains names & email addresses of the relevant NYU personnel and NYU guidelines. Your situation will of course be specific to your own college, but it’s reasonable to assume that it’ll be similar.
So the first thing you’ll want to do is send an email to the admissions office at your university. At NYU, this is going to be a woman named Kayla Whitaker, whose email is here. If you’re not at NYU, you can probably find the contact information for your admissions office on your college’s website. The email is going to request access to your admissions file, and it should look like this:
To Whom It May Concern:
Pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g), I write to request access to and a copy of all documents held by the New York University Office of Undergraduate Admissions, including without limitation a complete copy of any admissions records kept in my name in any and all university offices, including the Undergraduate Admission Workcard and all associated content (including without limitation the qualitative and quantitative assessments of any ‘readers’, demographics data, interview records) ; any e-mails, notes, memoranda, video, audio, or other documentary material maintained by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
FERPA prohibits the imposition of a fee to review documents (per 34 CFR Sec. 99.11(b)).
If you choose to redact any portion of any documents responsive to this request, please provide a written explanation for the redaction including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I understand that I may have previously waived FERPA rights pertaining to recommendations provided through the Common Application. Be advised that, if selected, this waiver pertains solely to recommendations provided through the Common Application system.
As per 34 CFR Sec. 99.10(b), these records must be made available for my inspection within 45 days of this request.
I look forward to receiving a full response within 45 calendar days.
This is obviously quite a lot of legalese. What’s relevant to you right now: that you can get your admissions records; that you can get all your admissions records (except your letters of recommendation from your teachers, which you probably already waived the right to when you applied); that you do not have to pay to read the records; and that they have to get these records to you within 45 days of the email.
A few days after my sending this email, I got this response:
Your request for your student records under the auspices of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has been sent to the Office of the Associate Provost which, per New York University Guidelines, is responsible for administering compliance with FERPA. In the interest of protecting student privacy, NYU requires that any student seeking access to their records verify their identity by submitting a formal record review request upon presentation of a photo ID at the Office of the Associate Provost, 194 Mercer Street, room 403F. The office is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday.
If you are unable to visit the office in person, you may complete the attached record review request form, including the bottom portion with your signature attested to by a notary that you are the person you claim to be. Completed forms may be returned as a PDF to me at email@example.com. Requests should be specific as to the records you wish to see (i.e. “admissions records”, “disciplinary records,” “bursar records”).
For more information on FERPA policies and procedures at NYU, please consult the University’s FERPA site here.
I opted to head down to 194 Mercer and present my photo ID; I was given a form to sign and requested to get my admissions records specifically.
If you can’t do this — say, if you’re studying abroad, as many at NYU are — there will be a form attached to the email that you can fill out. You will have to get a notary to attest that you’re the person you claim to be; this will cost money (the specific amount of money will depend on where you are). It’s clearly easier to do this when you’re physically at the main campus, as I was.
I went home and circled March 9, 2015 on the calendar, which was the date by which NYU was required to present me with the forms.
Fortunately, it didn’t take NYU quite that long. On February 10, I got a call from Kayla Whitaker, who told me that I could come down to 194 Mercer again and look at the records whenever I liked. (I was initially promised that they would be emailed to me, but was later told that due to a recent rule change, sending them via email would no longer be possible. This is probably a good thing, given what we know about privacy and the Internet, etc, etc.)
I was allowed to have copies made of my records, at 10 cents a page. The file was about 20 or 30 pages long, and most of it was stuff I’d already seen: my college essay, my high school transcript, etc. But there were two pages that contained what I was looking for: the comments made about my application by admissions officers.
I had both of these pages copied — Kayla Whitaker kindly waived the $0.20 fee — and took them home for my perusal. They were very interesting; there were some lovely compliments, some cutting but accurate comments about my high school grades, and the final result: that I was “probably fine to take.”
Obviously, an extremely glamorous and flattering result! And, I think, worth the relatively minor amount of trouble I went to in order to get it.
If nothing else, this is worthwhile not just for the result but also for the process: using the law carefully and correctly in order to make something happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise is, firstly, a surprisingly empowering feeling, and secondly, good practice for the future. If you’re at college right now, I’d recommend it.