UC Berkeley sees spike in student requests for admissions files

Inside Sproul Hall on campus, the admissions office has recently seen a stark increase in the number of students asking to see their personal admissions files after some at Stanford University started the trend and found written comments and scoring from university officials.
Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff
Inside Sproul Hall on campus, the admissions office has recently seen a stark increase in the number of students asking to see their personal admissions files after some at Stanford University started the trend and found written comments and scoring from university officials.

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Since the start of the semester, a record number of students have asked for their admissions files from the UC Berkeley campus — a spike that followed an online post about a group of Stanford University students outlining a process to request admissions documents.

About 60 requests came in the weekend of Jan. 16, when the post was released, and the number has since died down to only a few over the past couple of weeks, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.  Yet campus Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Undergraduate Admissions Amy Jarich suspects that at UC Berkeley, some students might be disappointed with what they receive in their admissions files.

“Much of the records are exactly what the student wrote and supplied — so not anything very exciting,” Jarich said.

Throughout the admissions process, applications are reviewed by about two to three admissions officers and are given a numerical score, according to Jarich. But the scores are not kept on file to be released after the decisions have been made.

In contrast, the New York Times reported that at Stanford, the files included written assessments and scores that admissions officers gave the applications.

Jarich said that for UC Berkeley students who request their files, it might be interesting to see how the campus organizes its information.

“Tiny, tiny little things like that might be new, but the majority of the information is what (students) sent us,” she said.

To view the files, students have to submit a request in writing to the campus admissions office, preferably through email. The office then has 45 days to respond and allow the records to be viewed, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

UC Berkeley sophomore Diyar Aniwar is one of the students who filed his request earlier this semester.

“I was really curious about how the admissions process worked,” Aniwar said. “In high school, you have no idea how they’re going to look at your application, so I thought it’d be cool to find out.”

Aniwar, like other students who emailed the admissions office, has yet to hear back. Jarich said the office is still coordinating with its legal team and hopes to send out responses next week. Students will be able to look at the files through appointments with the admissions office; the files cannot be photocopied or released to students for personal storage.

Jarich also explained that while all the requests thus far have been from current UC Berkeley students, because UC Berkeley is a public institution and California maintains freedom of public records laws, rejected students also technically have the right to request their files.

But Alicia Dowd, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California and co-director of the school’s Center for Urban Education, reasoned that if students were to see all the commentary and scores on admissions files, it would be more difficult for colleges to “craft a class” based on their mission to serve the public good.

“Application decisions are made in very contextualized settings,” she said. “If application files were all public, it would increase a drive to standardization and uniformity, which is not desirable.”

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.