Academic File Review

Responsible Office
The Graduate School - Academic Affairs
Rodney D. Priestley, Dean of the Graduate School
  1. Policy Statement

    This policy addresses graduate student academic files1 that are maintained by both the Graduate School and the academic departments. These personally identifiable education records must be handled in a secure, confidential, and consistent manner, one that is governed largely by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

  2. Who is Affected by this Policy

    This policy applies to all current degree-seeking graduate students as well as former graduate students.

  3. Definitions

    A federal statute that protects the privacy of personally identifiable student records and controls circumstances under which such records may be disclosed. It also provides students with a right to review their education records.

    Degree-seeking Graduate Students
    Individuals who may qualify for a degree in the Graduate School program to which they were admitted hold a status that indicates their degree eligibility.

    Former graduate students
    Individuals who are no longer seeking an advanced degree in a program to which they were admitted also hold a status with the Graduate School.

  4. Policy

    While the disclosure of information outside the University regarding current and former students that was collected during enrollment is generally prohibited, FERPA does allow for the public disclosure of certain "directory information," provided that the given student has not expressly objected to such a disclosure.4 The University considers the following to be information that may be shared with the general public:

    • Name
    • Telephone number
    • E-mail address
    • Photo
    • Dates of attendance
    • Major field of study
    • Degrees and awards
    • Academic institution attended immediately prior to Princeton University
    • Participation in officially recognized activities, organizations, and athletic teams
    • Weight and height of members of athletic teams

    There are additional data elements that, while identified by FERPA as being available for public disclosure, the University has decided to keep confidential or internal. It is University policy that student address information is not to be disclosed to third parties in the absence of a compelling reason. The following elements must be treated as CONFIDENTIAL, consistent with the University's Information Security Policy:

    • Date of birth
    • Place of birth
    • Addresses

    Under certain conditions, it is permissible to disclose personally identifiable information, beyond the items mentioned above as "directory information." By way of example, information concerning financial aid and other financial matters, evidence of academic or nonacademic disciplinary matters, details of academic progress, grades, etc. - normally treated as confidential - may be revealed to certain third parties identified in the statute (e.g. government officials), or when those third parties present a formal release signed by the student. When such a release is presented, a copy of it should be placed in the student's file to indicate that the disclosure of information was properly authorized.

    Additionally, an education record may be released to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals. In all cases, the basis for disclosure and the parties to whom the information was disclosed must be recorded in the file.

    By law, the University is required to make student education records available to the student (or properly authorized representative) for inspection within forty-five days of the request. Normally, this review is conducted in person in either the Graduate School or the academic department office. Students must submit a request in writing to see their file. Prior to a student's arrival, a Graduate School staff member reviews the file to make sure that confidential material has been removed from the file (e.g., letters of recommendation to which the student has waived right of inspection). Departments are encouraged to follow similar procedures.

    In reviewing their education records, students are permitted to take notes; request copies of documents (though normally not the entire file); and place an explanatory note, letter, or memo into the file. Students may not remove anything from the records.

    Staff members of academic departments should familiarize themselves with the University's Information and Security policy, as well as the University's FERPA statement, published annually in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities under the heading "Student Privacy Rights Under Federal Law." Questions about FERPA should be directed to the Office of the General Counsel.

  5. Procedures (if applicable)

    Graduate students may review their academic file held in the Graduate School Office. Student files cannot be removed from the Graduate School Office; therefore, all reviews must be done on the premises. Students must present a valid student I.D. and obtain prior permission to view their file by completing the authorization form (pdf) and bringing it to 111 Clio Hall for approval by the associate dean for academic affairs.

  6. Related Documents/Pages/Forms (if applicable)

    See above.

  7. Roles and Responsibilities

    Dean of the Graduate School
    Oversees Graduate School policies and associated procedures.

    Academic Affairs
    Approves requests for file review and prepares file for student review.

    Graduate Student
    Completes form requesting access to file.

For the purposes of this policy, the academic file held in the Graduate School's Academic Affairs Office during a student's enrollment, and thereafter in Seeley Mudd Library, is considered to be the student's official file.

FERPA was enacted in 1974 and amended by the Department of Education periodically since then.

3 "Education records" include files, documents, and other materials (whether in physical or electronic format) that contains information directly related to or personally identifying a student and are maintained by the University, whether in the Graduate School or in the department. Certain types of information are not considered "education records" under FERPA, including (i) records made by University personnel, including administrators and faculty, which are the sole possession of the person who made the records; (ii) records maintained by Public Safety for law enforcement purposes; (iii) medical and counseling records that are used solely for treatment; and (iv) alumni and non-enrolled student records.

The Office of the Registrar maintains the official University record for graduate students who have expressly objected to such disclosure.