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FERPA waiver

SoRealSoReal Registered User Posts: 149 Junior Member
edited December 2008 in Common Application
does it matter whether or not you waive your right to access? I didn't waive my right because i didn't know what it mattered for. Also, i dont think teachers would write any differently if i did waive because two even asked me to read through the letter to make sure there werent any mistakes for activities or anything of the sort.

So, does it make a difference at all?
Post edited by SoReal on

Replies to: FERPA waiver

  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    I am bumping this because I too want to know - to waive or not to waive, that is the question.

    I was told by the guidance counselor that she and others may not feel as if they can be candid, but I feel that if they cannot be candid, they have no business writing the recommendation and should say they will not write it. It seems to me that one should never waive their rights, for any reason. So we have decided to not waive them out of principle because I simply cannot think of a reason that would make waiving them a good or necessary thing. I would love to hear others' opinions though, since we may not have come up with all scenarios.
  • geek_momgeek_mom Registered User Posts: 2,106 Senior Member
    The general consensus is that most colleges will not take a non-waived recommendation as seriously because the folks writing the letters may or may not be candid if they know that you've reserved the right to review the letters.

    Doesn't matter how candid they really are or "should be" -- the admissions folks don't know the back-channel story and have no way of finding out, but what they do know is that the teacher/counselor knows you might be looking over his shoulder at some point.

    So it's better to waive the rights. Note that this does /not/ mean that the teacher/counselor /can't/ show you the letter -- only that he doesn't /have/ to. If you have a great relationship with the teachers, they'll probably offer to show you the letter or ask you what you'd like them to emphasize. geek_son's teachers don't show him their letters, but some of them tell him in detail what they wrote.

    SoReal, in particular, can have the best of both worlds by waiving his or her FERPA right -- because (s)he will get to see the letters anyway, having been asked to proofread them.
  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    I appreciate what you are saying Geek_mom, but I still have a hard time believing it is a good idea to waive one's rights. We have been getting pressure from the guidance counselor here, which I find somewhat offensive and paranoid. After all, how many students actually go look at their records? Is there any hard evidence anywhere that admittance will actually look at an applicant negatively because they choose not to waive their rights? Where does this general consensus come from? Does it come from admittance counselors or is it a supposition? I find it a bit hard to believe that admissions would really care - however the writers of the rec's might - and they might not send recs that are anything more than rudimenatary or lackluster. But then, that type of rec would be seen for what it is, IMO, not a recommendation at all. No one is going to write a glowing review of someone just because they think the applicant might view the rec. So a good review should/would not be seen by admittance as anything but a good review. If the review is lukewarm, well, it is not likely to get the student accepted anyway. If the student waived his rights and the counselor or teacher decide to write a negative rec, well he wouldn't get in then either. I am still not sure it makes sense to waive ones rights.
  • geek_momgeek_mom Registered User Posts: 2,106 Senior Member
    #theorymom, your guidance counselor is probably just trying to help your kid. Colleges want to know that teachers are being honest, without any pressure applied by kids and their helicopter parents. The way to assure them of that is to consent to allow the letters to be confidential. That piece of advice is so common and widespread that I'm surprised you're asking about it.

    If it's a matter of principle for you, do what you think is right and live with any consequences -- that's what matters of principle are about. But at least do it quietly if you can; you don't want to make it look like your kid's going to be a big hassle to deal with in the future. Nor do you want to prejudice the guidance counselor against the kid, since a helpful guidance counselor who wants the kid to succeed can make all the difference in the application process.

    But as you indicated, is your kid actually ever going to want to read the rec letters, whether admitted or not? If the answer is no, then what practical purpose does it serve to insist on reserving a right the kid is never going to exercise?

    The best way to handle the quality of rec letters you'll never see, imho, is to ask teachers first for scholarship recommendations or some other kind of rec letters that you /can/ review. Then you'll know who writes well and glows sufficiently about your kid. In geek_son's case, perhaps surprisingly, the English teacher wrote a sparse and fairly bland rec, although she considered him one of her "best in career" students. Other, more eloquent and thoughtful teachers who knew him in many contexts had more to say and said it better. Guess who was asked to write the Common App letters.

    Barring that approach -- have you had any teacher conferences or conversations with your kid's teachers? Which teachers spoke most highly of your kid, spoke eloquently in general, and perhaps shared an anecdote or two? Those are the ones you want. Barring that -- ask your kid. Which teachers know your kid best, seem to appreciate him/her in class, have friendly conversations with him/her outside of class, and give a fair amount of meaningful written feedback on assignments and tests? Those ones will probably write recs that stand out.

    If you're in one of those very large schools that assign rec letters to random teachers, you might try supplying a packet to the teacher. Identify the school and how the kid fits in, include an awards/activities resume, then suggest an anecdote or two ("you might mention that I tutored other students in French, started a French club, and spearheaded a silent auction that raised $1,000 for the club's activities...").

    These are some ways to assure the quality of a rec letter without actually seeing it. Ultimately, it's a question of trust. If, by insisting on the right to review, you make it loud and clear that you don't trust the teachers to write a decent recommendation... then don't be surprised if they view /you/ as "offensive and paranoid."
  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    Not waiving his rights (as a student) does not give me, the parent, any rights to see these recs.
    But I understand why you think a teacher or counselor would feel like they could say whatever they want if they knew no one was ever going to see it, but I still maintain, if they are going to write a good rec, then they would not care who sees it, and if they are going to write a bad one, and they do not want anyone to see it down the road, then they should just not write it at all, and they should waive the opportunity.
    I am still not seeing the value of waiving rights. Whether it seems to be a widely held belief or not (it could be myth, that's why I am asking on what it is based - I would like to hear it from some college admission folks)
    In my son's case: tiny school, teachers whom he has had for several years in a row and who we know will give him good evaluations. But you are right, we don't know how well they perform in these situations so your suggestion about getting other recs from them first is a great idea, and to then choose the ones who tend to best promote the applicant. Thanks for that hint.
  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    Are there many parents who make their kids request their records (say if a kid did not get into dad's alma mater) and is that the reason the teachers and counselors may be leery?
    Also it is my understanding that the forms come to the colleges without the kids having seen them. To see them they must request their records from the college. Is this not the case? By signing the waiver are they saying that the writer must show them the evaluation before it is sent? If that is the case then I think it DOES make sense to sign the waiver, only to let the college know the repsonse has not been viewed.
  • geek_momgeek_mom Registered User Posts: 2,106 Senior Member
    No... by signing the waiver, the kid is waiving his right to request this part of his records from the college. Ironically, this right only applies to the college(s) he enrolls in. For colleges that reject him, FERPA doesn't give him the right to review his file anyway. Ditto colleges that admit him, up to the time of enrollment.

    You will not see very much from college admissions offices about the right of access waiver, because FERPA prohibits them from requiring the waiver. However, here are some random-ish links from Google that might be of interest to you.

    From a school district's guidance office, a nice summary with credible references.

    And some more references.
    Law School Application Process FAQs
    Center For Human Development -- Graduate School Letters of Application
    Southern Illinois University Carbondale
    A Good Word: Recommendation Letters and Admissions

    On the other hand, here's one college that doesn't seem to care... but remember, under FERPA they're not allowed to require the waiver.

    Here's one that makes a good point for not waiving the right of access under a specific condition.

    These are training resources meant for college faculty/staff reference writers, but they might be of interest to you.
    New York University FERPA Guidelines
    How to Write Reference Letters - Legal Principles Involved With Reference Letters
  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    Thanks for all the reading material. We decided to waive them if the guidance counselor felt it would be best. I still think it is strange, but since we never planned to look at them anyway,...The teacher recs online through the common app cannot be changed, but the counselor here has to do them by paper and S can go in and sign them. So the couselor recs will be waived. the others won't
  • geek_momgeek_mom Registered User Posts: 2,106 Senior Member
    Then you've done what you can do, and I'm sure it will work out. If they're a college that cares about the waiver, maybe they'll raise an eyebrow briefly but move on if the recs portray him in a manner consistent with the rest of his application.

    By the way, good luck to your son!
  • #theorymom#theorymom Registered User Posts: 1,688 Senior Member
    And the counselor here showed my son her recommendation (despite the waiver). S says it was a good rec, so....

    thanks for the help and the well wishes
This discussion has been closed.