When you ask for letters of recommendation for college, you’ll want to waive your right to read them. Here’s why! The FERPA waiver (aka the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act waiver) allows your teachers to submit your recommendation privately, straight to the institution. Without the waiver, you could ask to read the recommendation later. There are a handful of reasons you’ll want to waive this right, and we’ll explain the pros and cons.
What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is legislation originally intended to help parents who wish to involve themselves in their child’s education. It makes provisions for parents to better understand the records school administrators keep about each student and advocate for change if needed.
The law also applies to your college application materials (and letters of recommendation). Notably, when the student turns 18 or attends a college or university, the law transfers the decision-making authority to the young adult.
What is the FERPA waiver?
As we mentioned earlier, colleges provide students with the option to waive their FERPA rights in regard to their college applications. This means that your writer submits it straight to the institution, and you (the student) can’t access it again later. What happens if you do choose to waive it? When you do, the system may “notify your recommenders of your decision,” Harvard writes. “As they submit a recommendation on your behalf, it may be useful for them to know if you will possibly have access to this recommendation in the future.”
Cons of waiving
The only tangible downside is that you won’t be able to see your teachers’ recommendations. Ultimately, while you may be curious, it isn’t necessarily important to see what your recommender wrote, now or in the future. By this stage in the process, you’ve likely chosen a mentor you trust and provided them with a “brag sheet” of concrete examples to talk about—so you have a good idea of what it will say, anyway!
Pros of waiving
Some mentors and colleges significantly prefer to see that students are comfortable waiving their FERPA rights for the college application. There are several possible reasons for this. The Common App organization cites the following benefits:
- “Waiving your right lets colleges know that you do not intend to read your recommendations, which helps reassure colleges that the letters are candid and truthful.”
- “Some recommenders may decline to write a letter for you if you do not waive your rights. Check with your counselor or teachers to see if any of them follow such a policy.”
Should I waive my FERPA rights?
Only you (the student) can answer this question. However, if you are still unsure about what will be the best choice for your situation, take some time to talk it over with trusted professionals. We at Empowerly highly recommend waiving the right to read your college letters of rec so that you can be sure you’ve done everything possible to increase your chances of admission.
If you don’t know who to consult, consider working with an independent college counseling company like Empowerly. Navigating these nuanced decisions is what we do!