FERPA is something that comes up when students are applying to college. For many students and parents, they may have never heard of this term before college application season. So, what is it and why is it important?
What is FERPA?
FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The federal law, passed in 1974, was passed to protect the privacy of students’ educational records. It gives parents of students under the age of 18 in primary and secondary education the right to:
- Have access to the student’s education records.
- Seek to have records amended.
- Have control over the disclosure of personal information
When the student turns 18 or enters a postsecondary institution, the FERPA right transfers to the student.
How does FERPA come into play in college admissions?
- You must give permission for your school to release your educational records to the colleges you have sent your applications.
- FERPA gives you the right to review recommendation letters sent on your behalf once you enroll at the institution if the college keeps this type of record after matriculation. Colleges will not share information if you were not admitted or if you did not enroll.
Should you waive your FERPA right on college applications?
Before submitting any application that requires a letter of recommendation, students will be asked whether they DO or DO NOT want to waive their right to review all recommendations and supporting documents. Many students and parents automatically think their decision on this question does not make a difference, but it does. Here are some reasons why you should consider waiving your FERPA right on college applications:
- Some teachers and counselors may choose not to submit a recommendation unless the student waives their rights. Many schools even have policies stating recommendations will not be sent unless FERPA is waived.
- Letter writers may not feel comfortable being candid and honest in their recommendations, even when they have nothing but positive things to say about the student.
- For writers who will write recommendation, they may send a letter that is very generic and does not add any new information for the admissions committee.
- Admissions committees may automatically assume the recommendation is less candid and discount the recommendation as a whole.
Many students feel like they are losing a little control when they are waiving their FERPA rights on college applications. However, students should keep in mind that teachers and counselors have their students’ best interest at heart when submitting the recommendations. If students are concerned a recommendation writer will submit a non-flattering letter, they should either choose a different writer or have a discussion with the letter writer. And, lastly, if students are still unsure about waiving their FERPA rights on college applications, they should talk to their school counselor or another school official.