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What is FERPA and Should I Waive It?

When it comes time to submit your college applications, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to waive your FERPA rights. But what is FERPA, and is it wise to give up these rights? To give you a short answer — yes, you should definitely waive your FERPA rights. Waiving your FERPA shows colleges that you will not read your teacher recommendations and proves to them that the recommendations are a genuine reflection of the teachers’ confidence in you.

But before you waive any legal right, it’s a good idea to read the fine print. So, let’s get into what exactly FERPA is, and what rights you are waiving. We’ll explain how the waiver works and why it’s important. To wrap up, we’ll help ease your mind about any anxiety you may feel about your recommendations. Let’s get into it:

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What does FERPA stand for?

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. It is an act that protects the privacy of students’ academic records. FERPA mandates that students be allowed to access their educational records if they so wish. While all this seems great, it runs into a bit of a conflict of interest when it comes to letters of recommendation. While these letters technically fall under the jurisdiction of FERPA, it may undercut colleges’ confidence in the letters to know that students have access to them.

Related: Coalition vs Common App: What’s the difference?

How does FERPA pertain to college recommendations?

A college wants to be as assured as possible that a teacher’s letter of recommendation is totally genuine. So, it follows that the school would want to know that the teacher was not forced to show the student the letter. A teacher who knows that a student will read their letter might be afraid to tell the truth or be critical. 

In waiving your FERPA, you are showing that you are confident enough in your teacher’s recommendation that you don’t need to read it. It also makes your teachers more comfortable in writing their recommendations. Some teachers may choose to share their recommendations with students, but others may be unwilling. By waiving the FERPA, you are ensuring that your teachers can expect privacy in their submission.

You’ll usually be asked to waive your FERPA when you submit an application, such as the Common App. The Common App knows that this can be confusing, and they even offer their own brief consultation on what it means to waive these rights.

Also see: How to complete the Common App activities section

What if I don’t waive the FERPA?

If you don’t waive the FERPA, colleges will be skeptical about the authenticity of your college recommendations. They might think that you helped your teachers write them, or that you pressured them into writing positive things. This will hurt your application and might even result in the school declining you.

Additionally, some teachers may be unwilling to write you a recommendation if you do not waive your FERPA. Although it is part of their job, teachers write recommendations based on personal relationships. To ask to see the letter that they write can be seen as invasive and might put teachers off.

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Am I waiving my FERPA rights forever?

You’re not, no! The FERPA rights waiver only pertains to your college recommendations. Overall, you’ll still have a right to privacy and access to your educational information. This is not a waiver that eliminates all of your FERPA rights.

Also see: When should I apply for college?

But I want to read my teacher recommendations!

We understand – it can be tempting to see the kind words your favorite teachers wrote about you. If you feel as though your relationship with your teacher allows for it, you can ask to see the letter. Some teachers show their students the letters even without being asked. But if they don’t want to share them, remember, that is common and you shouldn’t be worried.

Most of the time, a teacher will not accept an invitation to write a recommendation unless they feel they can honestly write a kind one. Use your intuition when deciding which teacher to ask. But the odds are, any recommendation that you get will be a good one. It is a rare case that a teacher will take time out of their day to ensure their student won’t get into college. And if a teacher would be one to do that, your intuition will probably tell you to steer clear from asking them!

Related: How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Wrapping up

  • Students should waive their FERPA rights in college applications to prove to colleges that their recommendations are genuine and to make their teacher recommenders more comfortable
  • You will maintain rights to your educational privacy and information. The FERPA waiver only applies to college recommendations
  • If you don’t waive the FERPA, colleges may question the authenticity of your recommendations
  • Students who want to read their teacher recommendations should ask their teachers individually to read them, but they shouldn’t expect to get to read them

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