I absolutely recommend waiving the right to access your letters of recommendation.
The way I think about it is that if a student is going to see the letter, the recommender may not be as honest as they would be if you waived your right. The admissions committee may consider such a recommendation to be not as genuine as a recommendation that had rights waived.
If you are worried that your recommender will say negative things about you, ask yourself whether you really want that person to serve as one of your references?
If you aren’t sure how a potential reference feels about you, ask them pointedly whether they feel that they could write you a very strong letter of recommendation. This will give them the opportunity to tell you whether they feel they can make you stand out as a top-notch candidate as opposed to simply put a letter together that is positive overall, but not glowing.
On more than one occasion I have asked for recommendations and waived my right to see them, but the recommender sent me a copy as well for me to see what they wrote. I must admit, I was blown away by the content of the letters I received in this manner! Knowing that there are people out there that have so much confidence in me has given me a boost in my own self-confidence. The key here is that I didn’t ask for these letters; they were given to me because the recommenders wanted me to know how they felt rather than because I was insecure about myself or how they felt about me.
In the end, here’s what I recommend:
- Only ask people for very strong letters of recommendation. If they seem at all hesitant, move on and find someone else!
- Waive your rights to see your letters of recommendation. This lets the recommenders and the admissions committees know that the letters are honest and genuine.
- Hang tight and maybe your references will want you to see how they felt about you and will send you your own personal copy of their letter!