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E-3 Cards are No Longer Accessible in Full Form

By Waseem S. Daher

NEWS EDITOR

An NI of 3.5, an average PR of 3.6, a Passion modifier, and a bonus for being “very hard-working”... no, this isn’t Dungeons and Dragons. It’s your MIT admissions application’s scores.

Any student can request to see his or her E-3 admissions card, which is the primary admissions record-keeping document. These cards used to contain students’ application scores and reader comments, but the Admissions Office now has a policy of destroying reader comments after the application process ends so that students cannot see them.

For the first time this year, steps were taken to ensure that “the comments were destroyed before Reg. Day,” Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones wrote in an e-mail. The change was made because the volume of requests last year had created too much extra work for the office, she wrote.

The manner in which students are admitted also changed this past year. Starting with the admissions season for the Class of 2008, application readers were told to look out for, and give a slight bonus to, applicants “who just have that certain something that screams ‘MIT’,” she wrote.

Comments now destroyed

When a student applies to MIT, the admissions office creates an E-3 card based on his or her application. The card contains comments from the application readers, SAT scores, GPA, and other vital statistics and basic information.

Two rating numbers also appear on the card. The Numerical Index represents a combination of GPA and SAT scores, and the Personal Rating is the average of the scores that three readers give student applications based on some non-statistical categories. A combination of these is used to place applications in a rough order of consideration for admission.

Previously, an E-3 card would be created when an application was reviewed, then destroyed sometime during the student’s freshman year. The numerical portions of it are archived, but the comments are not.

“In previous years, we had destroyed the comments when we microfiched the front of the E-3 summary card, which we usually did sometime during the freshman year,” Jones wrote.

However, after The Tech reported last year that freshmen could see their application readers’ comments before that part had been destroyed, “nearly 3/4ths of the freshman class came through to see the cards,” she wrote.

One reason this was problematic is that reader comments on the card frequently contain verbatim quotes from an applicant’s letters of recommendation. Students typically waive their rights to see their letters of recommendation when they apply, so recommendation writers write under the assumption that the students will not see the recommendations.

“It took scores of staff hours to review and redact any comments in the summaries that might have come from evaluations that the student had waived their right to see,” Jones wrote.

Furthermore, Jones wrote that she is worried students might misinterpret the comments, since the staff doesn’t have time to provide a detailed explanation to everyone. “It just killed me to think that students might have gone away feeling demoralized in any way because of these misunderstandings,” she wrote.

Despite the fact that the physical E-3 cards have been destroyed, the top portions containing the Numerical Index and Personal Rating are archived and still available by request.

Students can see records

Students can request to see what remains of their E-3 card because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

According to FERPA, post-secondary institutions like MIT must have “appropriate procedures for the granting of a request” by their students to see “education records ... within a reasonable amount of time.”

In addition, according to MIT’s Student Information Policy, “the right of access includes a right to an explanation or interpretation of the record, and the right to obtain copies of the record.”

Jones looks for passion

“Last year we added something we call a ‘passion index’, for lack of a better term,” Jones wrote. While the index is not a number that is archived, this step represents a slight change in the MIT admissions process.

Now, application readers are encouraged to look for “a natural affinity for the place, an intensity, a techiness, hard to describe but you know it when you read it,” she wrote.

Of course, nothing guarantees automatic admission, but the rationale behind this newest metric is that “it’s easy to get blinded by the awards and distinctions,” she wrote. “In the old days, we’d assume that the awards and distinctions were an indication of that student’s self-initiative and interests, but this is no longer true.”

This new index, however, is a way to highlight students that may have been passed over earlier because they did not have a significant number of academic distinctions. This way, application readers are not “snowed by countless activities that seem good on paper but that lack meaning,” she wrote.

“Maybe it makes a difference in 30-50 cases, so its effect on the class is rather minimal,” she wrote, but the larger significance of this is that emphasis is being increasingly shifted away from large quantities of academic awards and more towards demonstrated self-motivation.