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Students May Access Records

By Waseem S. Daher

In response to an inquiry by The Tech, MIT has reaffirmed its policy of providing a copy of a student’s non-confidential records when requested by that student.

“Students may read anything in their file that they have not waived their rights to see,” said Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones.

This means that students can access their admissions scores and application reader comments, provided that they are still present in their admissions files.

Detailed admissions records such as reader comments are destroyed at the end of freshman year, simply because of a lack of physical storage space for them. However, all numerical scores are archived electronically, and available for viewing upon student request.

Contents of admissions file

The admissions file contains Parts 1 and 2 of the MIT admissions application, letters of recommendation from two teachers and high school guidance counselor, a high school transcript, and the high school final grade report.

Many students, however, waive their rights upon applying to view their letters of recommendation and cannot receive copies of them. If the student was interviewed by an Educational Counselor, the report of that interview is also present in the admissions file.

In addition to these records, freshmen have an E-3 card. This card contains a summary of the applicant information including SAT scores, the applicant’s Numerical Index and Personal Rating, and comments about the application by the readers. The Numerical Index and Personal Rating are two calculated scores that determine where a particular applicant lies relative to the rest of the applicant pool. (See below for a description of the E-3 card.)

After one year, the E-3 card is destroyed, so it is not available to sophomores, juniors, or seniors. However, all of the numerical information on the E-3 card (including the Numerical Index and Personal Rating) are archived electronically and can be requested. In short, everything but the application reader’s comments are available for student request.

After five years, the complete physical admissions file is destroyed, but the electronic records are stored “pretty much indefinitely,” Jones said. These data are then used for statistical purposes by the admissions office, to track trends in SAT score or grade point average over the years, for example.

Students have right to documents

Two documents come into play in giving students the right to request their records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act states in 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99 that “each educational agency or institution shall establish appropriate procedures for the granting of a request by parents for access to the education records of their children within a reasonable amount of time, but in no case more than forty-five days after the request has been made.”

The document goes on to say that if the student in question is enrolled at a post-secondary institution such as MIT, the rights granted to parents in the document are then transferred to the student.

MIT’s Student Information Policy (http://web.mit.edu/policies/sip/) also says that “the right of access includes a right to an explanation or interpretation of the record, and the right to obtain copies of the record.”

However, both FERPA and the Student Information Policy include provisions that protect the confidentiality of letters of recommendation. If an applicant has waived his or her right to view his or her letters of recommendation when he or she applied to MIT, these portions of the records remain confidential and cannot be viewed by the student in question.

Furthermore, the language of both these documents is intentionally broad. “Educational records” are not just limited to admissions records, but also include housing, financial, disciplinary, and academic records.

“In principle and in practice, there is no question of the right” of the students to access these records, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine.

Unfortunately, requests for multiple records may take a substantial amount of time since not all student records are stored in the same place.

“When students request information from many offices, it takes some time to assemble it. The truth is, we are not set up administratively to easily provide that information to large amounts of students. We don’t get a lot of requests of this sort,” Redwine said.

Student reactions

Many students seem unaware of their rights regarding their admissions folder.

“I had no idea,” said Mark D. Mascaro ’07, when asked if he knew that he had the right to see his application scores and comments.

“I totally want to do that,” said Melissa W. Gregson ’06. “That’s something I’d like to know.”

Some students see other purposes beyond personal curiosity, however.

“For personal satisfaction, I feel like getting in is enough,” said Caitlin T. Mueller ’07. However, she said that “maybe I’d do it if I had friends in high school and they wanted to know” where they would stand in the MIT applicant pool.

“I don’t want anyone to be undermined by something as simple as this,” Jones said. The summary has “no meaning in and of itself. It’s just a tool in the selection process” and is only relevant during admissions.

The scores are “not a selection tool,” she said. “Every single student admitted to MIT should thrive here.”