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In College Admissions, Who You Know Matters, Survey Finds

This time of year as high school seniors find out if colleges accepted or rejected them, they may wonder how much of the decision is based on merit versus who you know.

In a recent survey of college admissions officers sponsored by Kaplan Test Prep, 25 percent of respondents said they felt pressured to accept an applicant who didn't meet their school's admissions requirements because of the applicant's connections. And legacies matter: 16 percent of respondents said applicants have an advantage in the application process if a parent or siblings attended the college.

The selection process has been under increased scrutiny lately as students have begun to use the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to ask schools to release their own admissions records. By leveraging this law, students can see what evaluators wrote about them, including numerical values placed on their personality rankings and evaluation of their academic records. Some higher ed. experts maintain this practice of making the admissions process more transparent could have a profound impact.

LeRoy Rooker, a senior fellow with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said in a phone interview that access to these records through FERPA is not new, but there are some limitations with the practice. Institutions are not required to maintain application records and colleges often do get rid of them. Also, only the school where the student is accepted and attends is required to release the records. Students aren't allowed insight into the process at colleges where they were rejected.

If the college has the records, it has 45 days to provide students an opportunity to inspect and review the materials. Rooker said the practice appears to be hitting a nerve recently and gaining traction among some students eager to some insight into the admissions process: "Clearly there is a mystique out there."

The Kaplan survey included 400 college admissions officers who were polled by telephone in July and August of last year.

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