Post Virginia Tech, ‘red flags’ on apps raise concerns

(U-WIRE) In light of shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University by mentally unstable students, universities are trying to figure out how to prevent similar situations from happening again.

One such way may be through increased scrutiny of students’ pasts during the admissions process.

Admissions experts said that officers have always been concerned when a students’ application has raised “red-flags” about his or her mental health – such as sudden drops in grades or frequent transfers among schools – but that there is even greater concern because of the recent shootings.

The University of Pennsylvania’s admissions office does not have a specific policy for handling applications of students that may have psychological issues, according to interim Dean of Admissions Eric Kaplan. Instead, admissions officers look at each application individually and assess potential problems on a case-by-case basis.

“We are mindful that Penn is a residential community and seek to enroll students who will thrive academically and socially,” Kaplan wrote in an e-mail.

Admissions experts also believe it is difficult for officers to assess whether a student with psychological problems will become a liability.

Steven Goodman, a private college counselor based in Washington D.C., said dealing with applicants who have disclosed past psychological issues is “the most sensitive area in college admissions,” because it is difficult to assess if a student will end up posing a problem due to the illness.

“We know that not every student is perfect, and people are given second chances, but where do you draw that line?” he said.

Experts say privacy laws make it is more difficult for admissions officers to figure out if applicants will become a threat if they have not disclosed a condition but have “red flags” on their applications.

“There are so many privacy laws in place that admissions officers can’t dig deep,” said Howard Green, a former admissions officer at Princeton University who now works as a private college counselor.

The Family Education Right to Privacy Act is a law that protects students’ privacy in their education records.

It is also illegal for universities to require applicants to disclose prior psychological problems.

“You don’t want to infringe upon students’ rights,” said Doretta Goldberg, a private college consultant based in Long Island.

Green added that it is also hard to predict if a student will end up a liability because some students don’t experience mental-health issues until college.

Students who are high achievers in high school and are under a lot of pressure to get into college may fall apart when they actually get there, he said.

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