Table of Contents

Understanding FERPA - Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a signed FERPA Release to send transcripts and recommendations to colleges?

Short Answer

No, but without a release authorization students and parents can request to see copies of everything you send. You must then provide access to the requested information within 45 days.

Long Answer

FERPA §99.31(a)(2) permits disclosure of Personally Identifiable Information from an educational record without prior consent when that disclosure is part of an application for enrollment in another academic institution. However, this is subject to §99.34.


  • 99.34(a)(1)(i) states that you do not need to notify the parent/student about the disclosure if the parent or “eligible student" requested the disclosure. Unfortunately, transcript and recommendation requests usually come from students, not parents, and students are often under age 18, which means they are not “eligible students.”


  • 99.34(a)(1)(ii) states that a notice is not required if your annual FERPA Notice includes a statement that your school "forwards education records to other agencies or institutions that have requested the records and in which the student seeks or intends to enroll or is already enrolled so long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student's enrollment or transfer.” However…


  • 99.34(a)(2) states that you must also provide “the parent or eligible student, upon request, a copy of the record that was disclosed.”


  • 99.10(b) states that you must comply with a parent’s or eligible student’s request for access to records “within a reasonable period of time, but not more than 45 days after [you have] received the request.”

Does FERPA even apply to my high school?

Short Answer

Probably, but not necessarily.

Long Answer

FERPA regulations apply to any public or private agency or institution “to which funds have been made available under any program administered by” the U.S. Department of Education. This includes funds provided “by grant, cooperative agreement, contract, subgrant, or subcontract” as well as funds “provided to students attending the agency or institution” which are paid “to the agency or institution by those students for educational purposes, such as under the Pell Grant Program and the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.”

If FERPA applies to any part of an educational agency or institution, then the regulations “apply to the recipient as a whole, including each of its components (such as a department within a university).”

FERPA does not apply if students attending an educational agency or institution solely receive non-monetary benefits under a program administered by the Department of Education

Does SCOIR’s electronic signature on the FERPA Release and FERPA Waiver constitute a valid signature?

Yes, FERPA §99.30(d) states that written consent “may include a record and signature in electronic form that (1) identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source of the electronic consent; and (2) indicates such person's approval of the information contained in the electronic consent.” Usernames and passwords satisfy the identification and authentication element in part (1) of this provision.

Is it OK for teachers who are providing letters of recommendation to see students’ GPAs, standard test scores, and/or transcripts without first obtaining a release?

Yes, FERPA §99.31(a)(1)(i)(A) specifically permits the disclosure of such information to “other school officials, including teachers,” within the school provided they “have legitimate educational interests.”

What are the issues for counselors and teachers if a student does not provide a FERPA Waiver?

It’s possible, but unlikely, that a student will read your letters of recommendation once they are in college. Without a signed waiver, a student has the right to access confidential information related to her/his application of admission. This right only applies to those held by colleges in which they are enrolled. The student would have to go through a formal FERPA request process to access those records, and there’s no requirement of colleges to hold those letters of recommendation after an admissions decision is made.

What's the difference between a FERPA Release and a FERPA Waiver?

Both documents provide clarity with regards to the disclosure of personally identifiable information contained in education records and protect the confidentiality of information provided during the college application process. 

The FERPA Release applies to the high school and should be collected and maintained by the high school.

The FERPA Waiver applies to colleges and should be forwarded to colleges along with other application-related documents.

Who needs to sign the FERPA Release and FERPA Waiver - student, parent or both?

Short Answer

FERPA Release:  If the student is 18 or older, then only the student needs to sign.  If the student is under the age of 18, then only a parent/guardian needs to sign.  

FERPA Waiver:  Only the student needs to sign.

Long Answer

FERPA §99.30 requires “a signed and dated written consent” from a “parent or eligible student” prior to disclosing “personally identifiable information from the student's education records.”  §99.3 defines ‘eligible student’ as "a student who has reached 18 years of age or is attending an institution of postsecondary education.

  • 99.5(c) limits a student’s rights to inspect records, “including records maintained in connection with the student's application for admission,” to educational institutions in which the “student is accepted and attends.” Since students must be attending a postsecondary institution to have these rights, they are deemed eligible students regardless of age.

Why is SCOIR’s release and waiver language different than The Common Application’s?

CommonApp’s “release authorization” language is limited to documents sent to colleges. It does not protect you when sending documents to non-academic institutions. Without a separate release incorporating language similar to ours, you are violating a student’s rights under FERPA anytime you send a transcript to places such as NCAA Eligibility Center or a foundation in support of a scholarship application. 

Furthermore, CommonApp’s “waiver” language only applies to letters of recommendation sent via the CommonApp. It would not apply to documents sent via other means or to other confidential notes in the possession of a college admissions office. Many college students recently exploited this loophole in a well-publicized situation at Stanford University and many other colleges.

Lastly, CommonApp states that students cannot revoke their waiver, which is a direct violation of FERPA §99.12(c)(3), which states that a waiver “may be revoked with respect to any actions occurring after the revocation.”

SCOIR’s release and waiver language more closely resembles language used in the FERPA legislation and provides both high school counselors and college admissions offices greater protection and clarity.

How did we do?

For Counselors: Managing FERPA on Behalf of a Student

For Counselors: Configuring Your Browser to Download Documents