I am a member the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS) and subscribe to the group’s email list-serve, where college counselors like me ask questions and share ideas. Right now there is a timely discussion about whether or not students should waive the right to see teacher recommendations.

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) gives enrolled students the right to view the contents of their files, including teacher and counselor recommendations. If you are admitted to the school you are permitted to read the recommendations and everything else in your file. Most application forms, including the Common Application, ask the applicant to sign a voluntary waiver of the right to review the recommendations. It’s voluntary: if you feel strongly about it, you may refuse to give such a waiver, but I think you should waive your right to see the recommendations. Here’s why:

  • Your recommenders will be more candid in their statements about you if they know the recommendation will be kept confidential.
  • This from an ACCIS list-serve member: “If the student refuses to waive the right, then the college assumes the letter of reference has been sanitized lest it lead to some civil litigation down the road. In these circumstances, the letter is probably not taken very seriously, or nearly as seriously, by the admissions office as one where the rights are waived. It is for this reason I advise my students to waive the right.”
  • If you are not accepted to the college, you have no right to see the recommendations anyway.
  • You have chosen your recommenders very carefully, and you have asked them if they will write a strong recommendation. They said “yes” so you can rest assured that the recommendation will be positive.
  • Teachers have the right to refuse to write a recommendation. Some may choose to not write a recommendation if the student does not waive his or her right to review it.

In the end it is your choice: you can retain or waive your right to access the teacher recommendations. Make an informed decision.

2 thoughts on “Why you should waive your right to read your teacher recommendations

  1. Thanks so much for your excellent question.

    That’s right, Nichole. It should have read (and now reads): “If you are NOT accepted to the college, you have no right to see the recommendations anyway.”

    You’re also correct to note that many colleges (all Common Application colleges) require a counselor recommendation (the Common App calls it a School report). If your brother chooses to retain his right to access the recommendations (against my and many others’ recommendation) then he should expect that some teachers may decline his request to write a recommendation.

    You didn’t say the reason the counselor refused to write the recommendation was because your brother didn’t waive his right to see it, but I’ll assume that’s the case. In my opinion, his guidance counselor must write the recommendation. Guidance counselors have an obligation to facilitate their students’ efforts to apply to college. That doesn’t mean the recommendation will be glowing, but it should be honest and as insightful as the counselor can make it. If the counselor continues to refuse to write the recommendation and your brother continues to refuse to waive his right to see it, I suggest speaking with the school principal, who can either instruct the counselor to write the recommendation, assign it another counselor or school official or write it herself/himself.

    Thanks again for your comment!

  2. I am confused – I had the understanding that the student only has the right to see the letter of recommendation if accepted, yet you state “If you are accepted to the college, you have no right to see the recommendations anyway.” Did you mean “if you are rejected?” I am concerned because my brother did not sign the waiver and was refused a letter by his high school counselor; unfortunately, a letter from the counselor is required by the school to which he is applying. Please advise as to whether this counselor acted appropriately.

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