Christy Qiu, a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, was curious to see her admissions file a year after earning admission to the elite Ivy League institution. Maybe she thought she’d see a treasure trove of analysis about her coursework, her grades, testing, admissions essays, extracurriculars, family background, and more. Maybe she thought she’d see the word ‘Admit’ in big, red, bold-faced letters inscribed along the top and gain a clear understanding of why the school chose to say yes. Or maybe she thought she’d see nothing at all other than the information she provided to the university. Thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, after making a request to the admissions office, Christy was able to take a look at her UPenn admissions file. So what’d she see?
UPenn Admissions Officers Aren’t Writing Much on Admissions Files
She didn’t see much. As Christy writes in an editorial published in “The Daily Pennsylvanian” entitled “I looked at my Penn admissions file, and you should too,” “My file was 18 pages long, and scrolling through it, I realized, most of it was a replica of my Common App, organized in a way that gave me no new information. Only the first page and one other page had new information. On the first page was my GPA, my senior year coursework, my SAT scores, my SAT II scores, and my AP scores.”
She continues, “Another page wrote out the form user’s title, the date the form was submitted, and that the file was placed into the admit bin. Most interestingly, there were four numbers, labeled ‘E,’ ‘I,’ ‘M,’ and ‘AI.’ With these letters came no description. However, AI, a number much larger than the other three could be interpreted as academic index, a score out of 240 that takes into account one’s GPA, class rank, and standardized testing scores. Two more boxes contained the words ‘very demanding’ and “FG,” presumably short for first-generation, and that was the extent of my admissions file.”
The Reason Why UPenn Admissions Officers Aren’t Writing Much on Admissions Files
We should first point out that Christy is, unsurprisingly, spot on in her analysis of the scarce handwritten notes found on her admissions file. AI does indeed stand for Academic Index. FG does indeed stand for first-generation, a big plus in highly selective college admissions. Very demanding is a summary of her high school coursework, and so on.
But why would UPenn admissions officers write very few notes on Christy’s admissions file? Why was it not marked up in red ink in every margin? Because UPenn’s Dean of Admissions Eric Furda wasn’t born yesterday. Harvard’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons recently had to take the stand to defend his life’s work, the Harvard admissions process. Harvard’s admissions files, which were part of the discovery in the Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case, became a matter of public record. Harvard’s notes on admissions files were widely reported on in major news publications during the course of the trial.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Dean Fitzsimmons wished he had instructed his admissions officers years before to not write as much as they had on admissions files, to not spill so many beans. Dean Furda is keenly aware that UPenn’s admissions files could one day be discoverable and that FERPA entitles students to review their files upon request. So it should come as no surprise that notations on Christy’s UPenn admissions file were few and far between — and, of course, not particularly juicy.