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Articles / Applying to College / Should I Waive Rights to See My References?

June 13, 2005

Should I Waive Rights to See My References?

Question: As I was filling out college applications, I came to a box that asked me whether or not I want to waive my right to access my application. I want my interviewers and recommenders to be honest when assessing me, but if I get rejected, I would also like to see my file to find out why. What kind of impact would not waiving my rights have on my admissions chances?

This issue comes up fairly often as more and more students want access to their files. Frankly, sometimes busy admission officials don't even notice which application box a student checks. Nonetheless, I suggest that you waive your rights anyway. That way, it will encourage recommenders to be forthright, and those admission officials who ARE observant won't wonder if your advocates are being less than candid.


Most important, if a college DOES turn you down, you won't have access to your records there anyway. According to Scott White, counselor at Montclair (NJ) high school, students who do not waive rights are entitled to view records ONLY at the college where they were admitted and enroll. If you seek out your file at the college you attend, you will be able to read your references but not the really juicy stuff: admission-officer comments ("Strong grades but so-so extras." "Took challenging classes but with mixed results." "I like her. She has pizzazz!").

And--hypothetically speaking--if you were to get a gander at ALL of your application folders, you probably wouldn't know why you were turned away based on reading recommendations. Recommendations are rarely poor, and only occasionally will they help shunt a student from the "in" pile to the "out." Similarly, interview write-ups are most often favorable or at least neutral, and even applicants whom interviewers loved often get bad news at decision time, especially at the most selective colleges. As you read above, checking the "No, I don't waive my rights" box does NOT give you access to admission officer comment sheets, and it's here that the REAL verdicts are decided (e.g., "Boring, poorly written essay." "Decent in all areas but nothing stands out," etc.).

So, while your decision about waiving your rights may not have an impact on your admission outcomes, I still urge you to waive them and to realize that even a "NO" response won't help provide the info you seek, if you should get too many thin envelopes next April.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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