I sometimes get asked to give recommendations / opinions about students by potential employers or third party HR Firms.

Is it acceptable to share the opinions with the students once I provide them? What is the typical recommendation about this?

Mostly the companies promise they will treat them as confidential from their side but that does not prevent ME from sharing my opinions with the students, right?

Just wanted to know the pros and cons of this. My interest is transparency. For the sake of concreteness let's keep this to US University jurisdiction.

  • 1
    Not an answer to the question, but important: In the United States, FERPA applies when you release information from what FERPA calls "education records." That specifically includes grades, GPA, and anything that is formally recorded. My non-lawyer understanding is that you can discuss your personal observations of the students, but not anything that is an "education record," with a potential employer. To include material that is an "education record," you need a FERPA release signed by the student.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 10, 2021 at 17:21
  • 3
    More on FERPA: There is a specific example here. There is a specific exemption in FERPA from the need for a FERPA release for applications to another educational institution.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 10, 2021 at 17:23

3 Answers 3


I would keep it private.

The perception, whether accurate or not, is that private letters are more honest. Probably no way that would get back to the target of the letter, but it might circulate among students who in turn may, accurately or not, gossip about who is the favorite. No real good comes of that.

There shouldn't be any useful feedback to a student in a recommendation letter. If you have positive feedback for a student, the sort you might put in a letter, share it with them as it comes up, don't wait for a letter ask.

If you have negative feedback for a student, don't put that in a letter unless you intend to sabotage them (either stick to the positives or decline the request). Share it with them early and in a productive fashion that helps them improve.

If you do these things then a student should know what they are getting when they ask you for a letter.

  • 1
    Indeed. Also, I'd strongly suspect that 22-year-olds will not accurately understand the nuances of comments from one 40+ year old to another about students. The (to my mind) manifest impossibility of universally understandable written appraisals is a compelling reason to me to not immediately think in terms of routine disclosure of things that can/will be misunderstood... and/or the inhibition that would induce in letter writers, anticipating misunderstanding. Still, right, it's not transparent... Jun 10, 2021 at 22:36

Yes, you can share them, and probably should. The company is correct in promising confidentiality, but that is because the words aren't theirs, but yours. But since they are yours it is fine to share them with students.

In fact, if you have to say negative things, it is best to discuss that with the student before you write the letter so that they have a better idea of where they stand.

On the other hand, I don't think that sharing them is required or expected. But I would consider sharing to be a good practice.

I would probably object to being told that I couldn't share a letter with a student, though it hasn't ever happened to me. I suspect, however, that some governmental agencies dealing with national security issues might require not informing the student.


It is surely acceptable. There are reasons to do it, I don't think it's "wrong" in any sense. Personally, however, I'm not so keen on it, because I don't want to encourage students to discuss the contents of recommendation letters (I perceive discussions about our subject area or even general advisory and personal issues as much more constructive and a better use of our time), or to "shop around" to find recommenders whose letters they like most. Generally I think that students tend to overrate the impact of recommendation letters, and I like to adapt the time spent on them to the very limited meaning they have in my view.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .