According to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), residency program directors consistently cited Letter of Recommendation (LOR) as one of the top factors in selecting applicants to interviews. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 (Buckley Amendment) requires that students be advised of their rights concerning educational records, such as LORs. FERPA gives important rights, including 1) the right of students to inspect their student records AND 2) the right to challenge incorrect information in those records, AND 3) the right to keep student records private. Because FERPA gives students these rights, no U.S. institution or organization can require you to waive these rights. When you ask for an LOR, you will need to decide if you want to waive or retain access to the see that document. It is, of course, not possible to know how each individual receiving the LOR may react to the fact that a student exercised or did not exercise the Right to Know, but according to Cornell University, the following are factors you may want to consider in making that decision:
Factors to Consider in Deciding to Retain Access (‘I do NOT waive my right‘):
- A potential recommender may choose not to write a letter for you if you retain your right of access.
- If you retain access, you need to be prepared to explain your reasons for your choice during interview(s).
- An employer or a member of an admissions committee at a graduate or professional school receiving the letter might tentatively draw one or more of the following conclusions:
- The evaluation may be less candid as the writer knew that the student would see it. As a result, less weight may be assigned to such letters.
- The student is determining that the recipient is receiving full information.
- The student wanted to discuss the letter with the recommender/evaluator before it was put in final draft.
- The student feels a moral obligation to exercise his/her civil rights.
- You will have an idea of the information schools/employers have and therefore can prepare for interviews accordingly.
- It may relieve stress and anxiety to know exactly what has been said.
- Factual mistakes in the letter can be corrected if the writer chooses to make those corrections.
- If you conclude that the letter is unfavorable, you can choose not to use the letter. The HCEC is an exception. You may not withdraw a letter submitted to HCEC.
- By reading an evaluation, you have a chance of learning from criticism.
Factors to Consider in Deciding to Waive Access (‘I waive my right‘):
- If your recommender knows you well and has said he/she can write a letter in support of your candidacy, the chances are slight that inaccuracies or unfair statements will be presented in the letter.
- An employer or a member of an admissions committee might tentatively draw one or more of the following conclusions:
- The evaluation may be more candid if the writer knew that the student would not see it. As a result, more weight may be assigned to such letters.
- The student has nothing to conceal.
- The student is not determining that the recipients are receiving full information or is using other methods to make this determination.
- The student did not feel it was necessary to review the letter before it was sent.
- The student does not feel a moral obligation to exercise his/her civil rights in this way.
It has been our experience at AmeriClerkships that the majority of LORs analyzed contain major errors (name, dates, AAMC ID#, grammar, gender, format, irrelevance, etc.). Additionally unlike US Medical Graduates, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) are new to the U.S. culture, and only spend a brief period of time with each letter writer (typically 4 to 6 weeks), all of which can result in an LOR that is not a direct reflection of their abilities as a future resident. Therefore AmeriClerkships recommends that you ensure that a poorly written LOR does not make its way into your residency application by retaining your right to access your LORs (i.e. by not waiving your rights to see your LOR).