Inside American University Admissions

Buzzfeed, back in its glory days, published an article in 2015 about a group of Stanford students were able to access their admissions files and view comments that the admissions officers made towards their accepted applications. Although this article has pretty much been swept under the rug by a monstrosity of Buzzfeed quizzes, I think it’s time to remind students about the one interesting facet surrounding how students were able to obtain the comments in the first place.


Most of us are familiar with FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.) Personally, I don’t know all there is to know about it. However, I recently learned that through FERPA, I could obtain my own comments from American University. So that’s exactly what I did. Through some short emails to the admissions office, I met up with one of their representatives to view my own file. The results were, well, both boring and interesting.


First off, the representative was extremely friendly and helpful. He showed me the rough framework complete with all boxes and checks that rate students based off their high school career. Most ratings operate on a 1-3 scale with some, such as the “rigor” rating, using a 1-4 scale. Most applicants fall under a 2 rating, including myself, much to my disappointment. These number ratings themselves were not very interesting and carried little meaning to me as they’re just simple ways for the university to filter applicants.


The admissions representative later explained to me a couple of aspects related to everyone’s individual file and the University. Besides everyone’s file being archived, you can only view your document at the admissions office, so the second you submit that application to American, boom, it’s now owned by the office. While this might not seem important, this means that even under FERPA, the University only has to provide students with their academic records and doesn’t have to explain why certain comments made in the application.


This brings me the final part of my interview with the representative; the comments. Considering that most of my application observations weren’t interesting, I was particularly excited to see the personal comments the university made about me. While the comments are short for time purposes, there was one comment that stood out to me in particular; “Dad went to Johns Hopkins and has a PhD.” The comment felt out of place in an application file predominantly filled with checks, numbers, and boxes. While someone could argue that it was just one of many observations, there were very few comments on the application. Remember, officers only have so much time to look at each applicant’s file and judge whether or not they’re a good fit for the university, so why was that comment there in the first place?


Earlier, I mentioned how the admissions office didn’t have to explain comments made on applications. Because of that limitation, I didn’t get to find out the true reason why my dad’s education was extremely important to my acceptance. I can speculate, and claim, that having a dad with a degree from a prestigious university might have better prepared me for college or the university put more faith into students with elite parent backgrounds. The reasons are endless.


Towards the end of the interview, the representative mentioned how it didn’t make much sense to look at my application in comparison to a student attending Harvard or Stanford because of the less competitive atmosphere. While this is true to an extent, I want people to remember that their acceptance, at least at American, meant two people weren’t accepted. What if that comment was the final driving factor towards my acceptance? Sure, it probably isn’t, but think about it. My dad’s education has probably affected me, but is it really a great reflection of who I am?


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