Assess Your Access

    I’m not the only one who wonders if Northwestern made a mistake in admitting me. As prospective students, we throw our grades, our activities and our essays into a metaphorical pit and in return receive what feels like the defining judgment of our lives. Earlier this year, inspired by students at Stanford University who publicized a way to see one’s admissions file, I set out to go beyond the “yes or no,” to see what value the University saw in me.

    MARCH 17: I finally did it. With great solemnity and sense of purpose, I submitted a form to the Office of the Registrar with a request to view my application and all related documentation.

    APRIL 3: I’m still waiting. By law, the school has 45 days to comply with my request, and while I’m not expecting anything before then, the waiting is frustrating. We never hear what people really think of us, and I want to read the unfiltered truth. Were they drawn to my essays or my extracurricular involvement? Was there debate over my qualifications or was I an immediate “yes?”

    APRIL 30: Today is the day. After setting up my appointment, I go to the Office of the Registrar and they hand me a manila envelope. My heart sinks as I open it and slowly flip through the photocopied pages. There are no comments, no rubrics, no check marks. They’ve simply given me back my application: just the essays, transcript and lists of activities exactly as I had submitted them October of my senior year. I waited 45 days for nothing. I wanted to see a critical analysis of my strengths and weaknesses, but instead, my application was scrubbed clean of anything potentially discomforting.

    While I am disappointed, Al Cubbage, vice president for University relations, says in an email that the school has never kept records. “After a student matriculates at Northwestern, the only admissions records that are kept are the application, test scores and high school transcript. The University does not keep any additional materials. This has been Northwestern’s practice for many years.” This is legal under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act: A university is not required to maintain any of these records, but to me it still feels like a cop-out.

    MAY 2: Upon reflection, I realize that I had gone into this experience hoping for validation, thinking that in some comment I would find my purpose at this school. I did not get that, but I also did not get an empty envelope. At that lonely table in the NU Office of the Registrar I got to see myself with fresh eyes. I saw what is the same – I still love Northwestern because it believes in learning by doing. And I saw what has changed – so much for studying theater in college. Maybe external opinions are less important. If I was looking for an expert perspective on my value, why do I assume that a guy in the admissions office would be more qualified on the topic than me?


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