Survey says admissions officers feel pressured to accept well-connected, less qualified students. But things are about to change, thanks to FERPA.

admissions-accept-studentsAs millions of college applicants begin to receive word about where they may enter as freshmen this fall, a new Kaplan Test Prep survey of admissions officers at 400 colleges and universities explores the question: is the admissions process rigged for the well-connected applicant?

According to Kaplan’s survey, 25 percent of admissions officers say they have “felt pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet your school’s admissions requirements because of who that applicant was connected to.”

The survey also found that 16 percent of college admissions officers say applicants to their school who are the children or sibling of alumni have an advantage over those who aren’t.

(Next page: An “open secret” and why it’s not uncommon)

“The acceptance of applicants whose qualifications may take a back seat to their connections is an open secret in the college admissions process, and our results show that it’s not uncommon,” said Seppy Basili, vice president of college admissions and K-12 programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “But colleges often say that more than looking for a well-rounded student, they are looking for a well-rounded class, which means they look at everything a pool of applicants bring to the table — including connections, whether political, business or other.

In the case of legacies, Basili notes, “some colleges may see second- or third-generation applicants as more likely to be engaged with a school’s culture. However, it’s important to keep in mind that although these ‘thumb on the scale’ admissions practices do happen, the overwhelming majority of accepted college applicants are successful due to their own merits.”

Basili says that admissions decision-making may increasingly be put under the spotlight with the recent attention drawn to a little known, but recently rediscovered federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Under FERPA, schools must release the admissions records to accepted students who request them within 45 days. An admissions official at top-ranked University of Pennsylvania reports receiving an “avalanche” of such requests in recent weeks, already four times the yearly average.

For more information about Kaplan Test Prep’s survey, please contact Russell Schaffer at russell.schaffer@kaplan.com or 212.453.7538.

*For the 2014 survey, 403 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities–as compiled from U.S. News & World Report–were polled by telephone between July and August 2014.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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