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High School Student Privacy with ACT, SAT, and Applications

As students complete registration questions for testing and their college applications, they turn to parents with a flurry of questions such as those below. LEAP client, Lysa, reached out to me via a direct message on Facebook saying she was "alarmed by the amount of personal info" the Common App asks.

  • "What year did you and Dad get divorced?"
  • "I need legal spellings for everyone's names."
  • "When was the first year I was enrolled in my school?"
  • "Where did you and dad go to college?"
  • "What do I say is the reason I changed high schools?"

To many this feels like an invasion of privacy and often parents are surprised to hear their high school student answered such questions. 

While most of the questions on the Common App, that over 900 colleges use for those applying to college, are mandatory, many asked by ACT and SAT aren't. 

Colleges might ask some of the above questions because they are trying to establish alumni relation, otherwise known as legacy or perhaps discern resources for paying for college or even who is a first generation college applicant. 

ACT and SAT are actually using much of the information they ask to sell student names to organizations such as colleges and scholarship organizations. Guess what? Your information is part of a million dollar industry. 

The Tests and The Rest Podcast, by LEAP friends Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin, had a recent episode with Jon Marcus, higher education editor at The Hechinger Report where he discusses this privacy issue on the first part of the podcast, but keep listening if you want to hear more about the future of ACT and SAT as they move to diversify and why he believes the tests themselves aren't going anywhere.

Take a listen here. You might also learn a lot from an older episode with Leonie Haimson on Keeping Student Data Private

It's not just the registration and applications where there's a problem. When any of us goes to the doctor, what do they ask us to sign? HIPAA. Each individual gets to control what they release of their medical history and to whom.

ACT and SAT scores are supposed to get the same level of privacy. No college is able to directly contact the ACT or SAT and ask how many times a student has tested or the test results. Due to privacy laws, it is up to the student to release the score reports to the colleges by ordering them at either the time of registration or after the fact for an extra fee. 

This gives families "score choice" deciding which scores to release. A student may test four times, but decide to only release the highest score report. Unfortunately, not all colleges participate is respecting the student's right to "score choice" as I outline in a previous post, Colleges Where You Send All Test Scoresand also provide 3 tips on how to protect the student in this case. 


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