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Application forms for graduate school usually contain some vague statements regarding the extents of usage of one's social security number. Some people believe that educational records at other institutes are private information and the universities should have access to the educational records that the applicant would disclose to them ONLY. (Regardless of potential consequences and/or ethical justification for actions of either party.)

My question is, having the applicant's social security number, can schools see which schools/programs the applicant has attended, for how long, and the courses that were taken in the past? If so, is this a common practice? That is, do graduate offices commonly check with social security information to make sure that the records from each previously attended institute is included in the application?

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    Such issues in the US are governed by FERPA; you can read more here. – Nate Eldredge Dec 7 '13 at 23:30
  • Thanks. But main part of my question is about accessibility of information, including name of the previous institutions and programs attended by the applicant that were not disclosed in the application forms. For example, consider the situation where the applicant has not included any information about one or more of the previously attended schools in the application forms/materials for a program at another institute. Are universities able to obtain any of these information? – trxw Dec 7 '13 at 23:58
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    Having someone's social security number is more or less irrelevant here. There's no good way to look up educational records using a social security number, and it doesn't give you any more access than you would have without it. In the U.S., Nate Eldredge is right that FERPA is the relevant law. I don't know exactly what it allows, though. (It allows disclosure of records without consent to institutions "where the student seeks or intends to enroll, or where the student is already enrolled so long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student's enrollment or transfer.") – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 8 '13 at 2:18
  • It's not clear to me how far this loophole extends. I don't think it is something to worry about, and I've never heard of a university trying to request a graduate student's old educational records directly from the other schools. On the other hand, if the application asks for a complete list of prior schools, then it would be bad to get caught giving an incomplete list. It's reasonable to leave out information that hasn't been requested, and you could try explicitly declining to provide requested information (I don't know how that would be viewed), but getting caught lying is bad. – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 8 '13 at 2:24
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    Your degree certificates and official transcripts are usually required material. The school can't force you to disclose all education record, but if you don't your chance of admission can be significantly lower. If you don't say which college you graduated from, almost no grad school will admit you at all. – Xiaolei Zhu Dec 8 '13 at 7:27
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I believe your question is really about the existence of some sort of central database where all student records can be searched, if one has a key like a Social Security Number (SSN).

I do not believe any such system exists as I have never heard of it and if it did exist, it would likely run afoul of FERPA mentioned in the comments.

Basically, the only way one school would know you were at another school is if you (or someone else) tells them. Having your SSN does allow people to find out information from you but that is mostly from credit reporting agencies. If you borrow money from the school and they report it to the agencies, someone might be able to find out some information that way, but I can't imagine they would find out the program you were in.

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    I basicly agree with you. However, I am wondering about student loan, research assistantship and scholarship. If the school has those info, they may know where the student had attended another school previously. Is this a possibility? – scaaahu Dec 8 '13 at 6:09
  • That's a good question @scaaahu – trxw Dec 8 '13 at 6:22
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    Despite serving on graduate admissions committees for many years, I don't recall ever seeing information about how the student paid their undergraduate tuition, except in the students' own statements. Similarly, I have never had access to any financial records of undergraduates at my own university (except for students I've hired myself, and even then, my information is limited to the job I hired them into). Your financial history is simply not part of your educational record. – JeffE Dec 8 '13 at 22:02
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The answer provided by earthling is excellent. I would like to tackle this question from another angle.

I don't believe any school will purposedly leak or illegally obtain student information. You are in the US. You are protected under FERPA.

However, accidents always happen. For example, what if one of the professors in the school you previously attended just transferred to the school you are applying. He would know you were in another school and the program you were in. Or your current advisor met with your former advisor in a conference. Academia is a small world.

I would not worry about the SSN issue if I were you. Just focus on your application and your study. Put aside your past. Pursue the future.

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    I agree with this completely. There are many ways that you could be discovered but these are basically by chance like friends at two schools just happen to talk about your situation or a teacher from one school you attended come to a new school you are applying to...there are many potentials but none of them really involve your SSN and it's really better just to focus your energies on doing your best from here on out. – earthling Dec 8 '13 at 13:20

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