I had been considering throwing in the towel. For the past eight years, I’ve met with prospective first-year students as a volunteer alumni interviewer with the Stanford OVAL program. The reports I submit after the interviews become part of their admissions file. But Stanford’s acceptance rate is low—in 2023, it was less than 4 percent—and each time I see the word deny next to one of my interviewees’ names at the end of an admissions cycle, I feel a little more heartbroken.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten to know loads of inspiring kids, and a handful of them were offered a spot. After a cycle in which not one of my interviewees was green-lighted, though, I started to wonder: In expressing my nostalgia and enthusiasm for Stanford, was I doing them a favor or setting them up for disappointment? Was it fair of me to share an inside look into the spoils of the Farm when most won’t have access to them?
Then, out of the blue, I received a text from one of “my” admits, whom I’ll call Layla. She thanked me for getting her into Stanford. I was touched, but I mentally dismissed the validity of what seemed to be a misguided assumption of how the admissions process works.
Each time I see the word deny next to one of their names at the end of an admissions cycle, I feel a little more heartbroken.
Layla and I met for coffee a few months later, and she delighted me with a detailed discussion of her classes, her professors, her research, her friends. Her eyes were bright, her excitement palpable. She told me she had submitted a request to spend 20 minutes with her admissions file. Her friends were all doing it, so she thought she would too.
Layla made the request through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974, which gives students the right to access and review their own educational records. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to take the time to look. Wasn’t her Common App tucked safely away in the past? Couldn’t she just enjoy her time as a Stanford student without being distracted by nagging questions of whether she belonged?
As it turns out, Layla learned that the admissions officer who first read her file was on the fence about her but then decided to put her application through for another read because of what I’d written in my interview report. My voice had made a difference.
Layla found the reassurance she’d been looking for: Why was she here? Did she really matter to this incredible community? Seeing her put her worries to rest helped me do the same with my own. Maybe sometimes we all need to hear that we matter.
Dana Hudepohl, ’96, MA ’96, lives in Atlanta. Email her at email@example.com.