Should I waive my right to review recommendation letters? Our Answer — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
6 min readMay 30, 2023

If you are considering pursuing graduate school, then understanding the process for submitting letters of recommendation is as essential as figuring out if you should take the GRE or not. One important question we have encountered time and time again with prospective graduate students is “Should I waive my right to review recommendation letters?” It can be difficult to decide which option might be the best for your individual situation and future goals.

To help you better understand your options, this blog post will explore both sides of the issue and weigh potential pros and cons before ultimately answering the burning question: should I waive my right to review recommendation letters? With insight into best practices gleaned from many years of experience in higher education, we’ll provide an answer that will empower you with information to make an informed decision about waiving your rights when it comes time for submitting recommendation letters

Why do graduate programs offer applicants the option to waive the right to review their recommendation letters?

First things first, let’s define what it means to waive your right to review recommendation letters. Essentially, by waiving your right, you’re giving up your ability to request and view recommendation letters. This is often done electronically through the application platform to maintain the confidentiality of the letters.

So, why would you want to waive your right?

To demonstrate trustworthiness

The biggest reason is that it shows the admissions committee that you trust your recommender and that you are confident in their assessment of you. It also signals that you are taking the application process seriously and that you understand and respect the role of the recommendation letter in the process. By waiving your right to review the content of your letters of recommendation, you are showing your commitment to honesty and transparency in your application. It is a sign that you have faith in their judgment and can be trusted by the admissions committee.

To protect the privacy of your recommenders

Waiving your right to see letters of recommendation allows your recommenders to provide an honest assessment of you without fear that you will read it and judge them for their comments. This can lead to more accurate and meaningful letters which can help strengthen your application. Without worrying about hurting your feelings or causing conflict, they can provide a more honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This can be particularly valuable if you’re applying to highly competitive programs, where admissions committees are looking for applicants who stand out from the crowd. A lukewarm or equivocal recommendation letter won’t cut it in these situations.

To ensure fairness

Waiving the right to see your letters of recommendation can help ensure that the admissions process is fair for all applicants. It prevents those who have access to their letters from having an advantage over the other applicants who may not have a review option.

To save time

Waiving your right to view your letters of recommendation will also save you time as you won’t have to read through and potentially challenge the content of the letters. This will enable you to focus more on ensuring that other parts of your application are completed accurately and submitted on time.

The Cons

On the other hand, there are some good reasons to retain your right to review the letters.

So, why would you want to NOT waive your right?

To ensure accuracy

Firstly, it lets you ensure that the letters are accurate and complete — your recommenders might forget to mention an important project you worked on or a skill you have. By reviewing the letters, you can correct any factual errors or omissions. You can also provide context or additional information that will help the admissions committee understand your accomplishments.

To improve yourself

Another benefit of retaining your right to review recommendation letters is that you can learn from them. Reading the letters can give you insight into how others perceive you and your work. You might discover strengths or skills you didn’t know you had or areas where you need to improve. This feedback can be valuable as you strategize for your future academic or professional goals.

To avoid potential biases

Waiving your letters of recommendation can be a great way to ensure that any potential biases from letter writers are addressed before they become an issue. By not waiving your letters, you can allow the admissions committee to review them in their entirety and assess the content for any signs of bias or prejudice. Ultimately, not waiving your letters of recommendation is one way to guarantee that you are presenting a full and unbiased picture of yourself to potential schools.

To improve your application

Having the right to see letters of recommendation before submitting them to grad school can be a great way to strengthen your applications and maximize your chances of gaining admission. Not only is it important to ensure that any given professor or supervisor has put forth a glowing review of your character and accomplishments, but it also allows you to provide additional context for how you have excelled in your academics, research projects, or any other extracurricular activities. Knowing what is written about you can be especially beneficial if there are areas of improvement that need to be addressed and corrected before applying.

Can NOT waiving your rights hurt your applications?

But let’s be real: is there really any harm in waiving your right to review recommendation letters? In most cases, probably not. Admissions committees are typically more concerned with the content of the letters themselves, rather than whether or not you waived your right to see them. Unless there is something particularly damning in the letters, it’s unlikely that waiving your right will have a significant impact on your application.

That being said, there are some scenarios in which not waiving your right could actually hurt your chances. For example, if you work in a toxic or hostile work environment, it may be best to keep your right intact in case your recommender writes something negative. Similarly, if you have reason to believe that your recommender may not write a glowing letter, it may be better to keep your right and ask them to write a different letter or decline their recommendation altogether.

Is there a way to escape this dilemma?

The best way to handle waiving or not your right to view letters of recommendation for graduate school is to gain some control and insight over their content. With the right strategy, there is no reason for you to find yourself in this type of dilemma. It is important to select the right recommenders and there are many ways to minimize the dose of unknown as you seek out and collect letters of recommendation.

Conclusion

Finally, it’s worth noting that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether you should waive your right to review recommendation letters. The decision will depend on a variety of factors, including your relationship with your recommenders, the competitiveness of the programs you’re applying to, and your comfort level. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the option that feels right for you, based on your own assessment of the situation. The key is to understand the pros and cons of each option and to make an informed decision based on your own goals and values. Regardless of what you choose, remember that the most important thing is to have strong relationships with your recommenders, built on trust, respect, and mutual confidence in your abilities. So go forth, be confident in your decision, and know that you’re taking a vital step toward achieving your academic and professional goals. If you need any help with your graduate school applications, feel free to check out our services here.

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on May 30, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/