Drake University students applying to graduate or professional schools will most likely have to submit letters of recommendation along with their applications. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 gives students important rights with those applications, including the right to view all letters of recommendation written about themselves.
While institutions can ask candidates to waive their right to view a letter of recommendation, no establishment can require them to do so.
At Drake’s application offices, it is not taken into consideration whether or not a student has waived their rights to view letters of recommendation during the application process.
“It’s information that we can see that’s part of the application that comes in, but it’s not something that we really look at in terms of our process,” said Evan Favreau, assistant director of admissions at Drake.
There are many factors for students to consider when deciding whether or not to waive their rights.
For students looking to retain their rights, a recommender may not be as comfortable writing if they know that the student will be seeing what they say. This could lead to potential recommenders declining to write a letter at all.
“Part of a letter of recommendation is we’re trying to get an honest insight into an applicant from a source who is not the applicant,” Favreau said. “I think if the person writing that letter of recommendation knows for sure that that student isn’t going to be seeing what they write, they probably feel the ability to be able to be completely honest in, perhaps, ways that they would feel hesitant to be if they thought there was a chance the student could actually see what they were writing.”
In the case of an interview, a student may have to explain his or her reasoning for choosing to retain or waive access. It may be assumed by an admissions committee that an applicant chose to waive their rights because he had nothing to hide, in the same way that a student choosing to view their letter might be afraid that a letter could be unfavorable.
Retaining rights also enables students to come more fully prepared to an interview, knowing all that the admissions committee knows about them. Committees may, however, put more consideration into letters that they know were not seen by the student, as the letters can be more candid that way.
Career Services at Cornell said in a document addressing the topic that in some cases, such as medical school applicants using the Health Careers Evaluation Committee (HCEC), letters of recommendation must be sent in whether or not the student agreed with what was written. If a student retains the right to view the letter and wants to send a rebuttal along with it, the HCEC will review that as well.
Carley Prenja, a junior at Drake who plans on applying to graduate school, said she is not going to view her letters of recommendation when applying.
“I feel that viewing them may make the impression that you do not trust that you’ll have good letters of recommendation,” Penja said.
When applying, it is important for students to realize that there is no sure way to know how an admissions committee might react to their retention or waiving of rights.