What is FERPA? Should You Waive it on the Common App?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is in place to protect students’ privacy and access to their own academic records. When you submit your college applications, you’ll have the opportunity to waive this right, particularly as it relates to your teacher recommendations. 

 

But what exactly does waiving this right mean? And should you waive FERPA? We’ll break it down in this post.

 

What is FERPA?

 

According to the Common App, “FERPA regulates the privacy of student education records, which could include your application to the college where you enroll. FERPA also gives you the right to review confidential letters of recommendation provided as part of that application after you enroll.”

 

Summarily, FERPA allows parents and students who are at least 18 to access their educational records. Moreover, it requires them to explicitly give permission for their institutions to release their records.

 

Should You Sign the FERPA Waiver on the Common App?

 

You should absolutely sign the FERPA waiver on the Common App. Otherwise, admissions committees might question whether your recommendation letters are genuine and a true reflection of you. Teachers and counselors, in turn, might feel that you don’t trust them to write a good letter, and may be less inclined to write you one. 

 

Can I Still See My Rec Letters if I Waive FERPA Rights?

 

Some teachers may voluntarily offer to show you your letters of recommendation. But you shouldn’t expect or ask to see them if you’ve signed the FERPA waiver.

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But How Will I Know that My Rec Letters are Good?

 

It’s understandably concerning to not be able to information about yourself before you submit your college applications. But there are steps you can take to have peace of mind when securing your letters of recommendation.

 

1. Ask the right teachers.

 

Ask teachers who know you especially well. They should be ones you had recently (junior year) and perhaps worked with in multiple contexts, like a club advisor in addition to teacher. 

 

While it’s not a good idea to ask a teacher of a class in which you didn’t perform well, they don’t necessarily need to be the one who gave you an A+. The teacher of a challenging class, for instance, can share insight on how you grapple with difficult material and find creative ways to succeed.

 

Overall, focus on teachers you know are invested in your success and can trust to be timely with their submissions. 

 

2. Ask early.

 

Asking early is only courteous. This gives your teachers the time they need to write a thoughtful letter that truly reflects your character and academic strengths. Remember, too, that your teachers may well be writing other letters for your classmates, so you want to make sure you give them ample time to devote to your letter. Typically, you should request your letter at least one month in advance of the due date.

 

3. Give your recommenders the info they need.

 

Make sure your recommenders have the information they need to write you a stellar letter. That means a brag sheet, which shares your accomplishments and interests, and will help reinforce the qualities your teacher or counselor has observed from you in-person. Of course, you should also give your recommenders basic information, such as deadlines and how to submit their letters. 

 

Want to know more about rec letters? See our step-by-step guide to letters of recommendation.

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.