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Stanford Discourages Students From Viewing Their Admissions Files

The country's most selective university has some words of advice for students capitalizing on a little-known federal law.

Posted on February 25, 2015, at 3:31 p.m. ET

Ken Levine / Getty Images

A group of school kids tours the Stanford University campus in Stanford, California.

Stanford has a message for students trying to view their confidential admissions records at the University: are you sure you want to see this?

After a Stanford student-run newsletter exposed a little-known federal law that allows students to see what college admissions officers had written about them, the school's admissions office was flooded with requests for the confidential data.

The documents, obtained under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, have the potential to shine a light on the highly secretive world of admissions at Stanford, the country's most selective university, and other schools. Under federal law, Stanford is required to produce students' records, which include essays evaluating students' personalities and characters, within 45 days.

But the university is apparently hoping to discourage many students from viewing all but the most basic parts of their application.

In an email to students who submitted requests for the documents, a university official writes, "The path to Stanford is not easy and the admission process is rigorous and critical. So please ask yourself: What benefit do I seek from reviewing these additional admissions records?... Will my life be better for having reviewed them?"

The email from the Stanford registrar's office, which includes details about how to withdraw requests, encourages students to read a recent Time magazine article about an alumnus' "own deflating experience when he reviewed his records" several decades ago. Joel Stein, the Time columnist who viewed his records in 1992, found comments on his admissions file that included, "He could drive you crazy," "Not appropriate" and "Hormonal overdrive."

But more recent admissions records at Stanford and across the country are likely to be far more tame; filled out electronically, they include numerical grades for things like character and rigor and brief evaluative essays.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.