The Ivy Coach Daily
May 6, 2023
University of Pennsylvania Admissions File Review
Originally Published on January 27, 2019:
A few years back, Christy Qiu, a then-first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, was curious to see her admissions file a year after getting into the Ivy League institution.
Maybe she thought she’d see a treasure trove of analysis about her coursework, 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 besides the information she provided to the university.
Thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Christy could look at her UPenn admissions file after making a request to the admissions office. So what exactly did she see?
UPenn Admissions Officers Write Few Notes on Admissions Files
She didn’t see much. As Christy wrote in a 2019 editorial published in The Daily Pennsylvanian about her gander at her UPenn admissions file, “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 continued, “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.”
Why UPenn Admissions Officers Write Few Notes on Admissions Files
First, Christy’s analysis of the scarce handwritten notes on her admissions file was spot on — it was intentional. Also, “AI” does indeed stand for Academic Index, just as “FG” stands for first-generation college student, and “very demanding” is a summary of her high school coursework.
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?
The Harvard Trial
That’s easy. Because UPenn’s then-Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, who left UPenn in 2020, wasn’t born yesterday. Back in 2018, Harvard University’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons 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, a case that has since gone on to the United States Supreme Court and is now awaiting a decision that could forever shake up the college admissions process by outlawing Affirmative Action, became a matter of public record. Harvard’s notes on admissions files were widely reported during the trial.
As such, you can bet your bottom dollar that Dean Fitzsimmons wished he had instructed his admissions officers years before not to write as much as they had on admissions files, not to spill so much tea. Dean Furda, observing the trial from his perch in UPenn’s admissions office, was keenly aware that his school’s admissions files could one day be discoverable just like Harvard’s.
FERPA Review Requests
Additionally, Dean Furda keenly understood that FERPA entitles students to review their files upon request. So it should come as little surprise that notations on Christy’s UPenn admissions file were few and far between — and, of course, not particularly juicy. In addition to the file being potentially discoverable in future litigation, the student under review could one day see the file, including any notes on said file.
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