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.