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Can My School See My Deleted Emails? [Detailed Answer]

Schools typically provide their freshman students with new emails with the school’s domain. You use this email to communicate with your professors, but there’s a chance you may have sent an inappropriate email from the wrong address. You quickly deleted it, but the question if your school can see it lingers – can your school see your emails, even if you delete them?

Your school can see your deleted emails. Emails from your school email, usually ending in .edu, go through the school’s domain. When you delete your email, it stays in your trash folder. Even when you delete it permanently, the school can still see it until they delete it permanently.

But is it even legal for your school or university to read your emails? Can they recover a deleted email should you need it? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Can Deleted Emails Be Recovered by a University?

Your university can recover deleted emails. When you delete an email from the Trash folder, you may think that it’s deleted permanently. However, if the email address you’re using is on the university’s domain, they have access to these permanently deleted emails.

Additionally, most educational institutions keep a backup of permanently deleted emails for up to a month, so there’s a significant period of time during which they have access to all your conversations over email.

How to Recover Deleted Emails

If you use Outlook, you, and your university, can recover your permanently deleted emails for up to 30 days after deletion. For junk emails, you have a 10 day period of time during which to recover them.

To restore deleted emails on Outlook, you will need to:

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. Go to the Deleted Items folder on the left pane.
  3. Select the email you want to recover.
  4. Press on the Restore button at the top of the screen.

Source: Microsoft Support

However, if your university email address uses Gmail, you can only recover deleted emails in the Trash folder. This can be done for up to 30 days post-deletion, after which it is deleted forever (source).

That said, you will need to keep in mind that most large universities use their private domain, which is essentially a university-owned service.

If you want to recover a recently deleted email from a private university domain, speak to the academic personnel for help. They can probably do it in a few simple clicks.

However, keep in mind that this will only work for recently deleted emails. As discussed above, most universities delete their backups every 30 days, so you probably won’t be able to recover an email you deleted two years ago.

Can Colleges Legally Read My Emails?

Colleges can legally access and read your emails if they provide the email service. However, if they use a different email domain, they may be bound by the domain provider’s terms of service. That said, many external email domains also provide universities with access to their students’ emails.

If the university owns the email domain and they read your emails, it’s legally considered to be the university “monitoring its own system.”

This was established in the case of Reichert v. Elizabethtown College, 2011 WL 3438318. The court determined that the college did nothing wrong by reading the plaintiff’s emails.

Source: Evan Law

Many universities, including Yale University, have publicly confirmed that they can read any of their students’ emails. If you’re worried about the privacy of your emails, make sure to check any guidelines that might be mentioned in your student handbook, or check with a university administrator to check if your university reads students’ emails.

If your university uses some other email service instead of their own domain, they can still access your emails legally. For example, Gmail offers G Suite for Education. Schools use this service to create student email addresses.

The G Suite administrator can do pretty much whatever they want with your account. They can even set up your account to automatically send all emails to a separate profile.

This is not only legal, but it is also permissible by Gmail’s terms of service. The only difference is that your school will not be able to access permanently deleted emails, as they have no backup.

How Can I Keep My Emails Private?

You can keep your emails private from your university by using your personal email instead of your provided university address. Your university only has access to your university email and will not be able to access conversations that take place over your personal email address. 

Everyone uses the wrong email from time to time. I’ve sent emails to my friends using my university email more than once. 

However, as much as possible, it’s crucial to stay away from using your university email for personal conversations, especially if you’re concerned about the privacy of those conversations.

You shouldn’t use your university email for anything other than to talk to professors. Even forwarding an email to a colleague can land you in trouble without the professor’s consent.

If you’re worried about using the wrong address at the wrong time, consider getting into the habit of logging out of your school email account when you’re not using it. Remember, the account administrator doesn’t just have access to your emails, they have access to everything linked to the account.

For example, if your school uses G Suite for Education, the administrator will be able to not only read your emails, they’ll also have access to any materials to upload to the Google Drive linked to that account, as well as to your calendar and everything mentioned in it (source).

So, use your private email whenever you can. Your email provider may still be able to see what you’re doing on it, but you’ll have privacy from your university.

If your professor asks to see your private emails, you can and should refuse. They have no legal right to see them, even if you have sent or received emails about them.

What Can I Do With My School Email?

You can use your school email to gain free or discounted access to several services. This includes a six-month trial of Amazon Prime, 50% off a Spotify account, and free access to basic Office 365 services. You will also be able to use it to access several scientific journals.

Before you do so, however, make sure that your university is okay with it. If they give you the green light, you’re in luck. You will have access to some incredible deals with a .edu email address.

Again, keep in mind that your university can see this activity, so you may decide that you value your privacy over accessing these offers. 

Some services will use your .edu email to check that you’re a student. For example, Samsung will give you 10% off with a school email account, as they count that as proof that you’re a student.

My favorite use of school emails is undoubtedly the ability to access research journals and papers. This is because most universities have “bulk” accounts on major research websites. These allow students with a .edu account to access the papers on the website for free or at a very low cost.

If you try to access the same websites with your personal email, you’ll either be rejected or need to create a personal account, which can be extremely expensive.

Final Thoughts

Your school can see your deleted emails on all services. The only exception is if the school uses Gmail as an email provider, as it allows you to permanently delete the email once it’s in the Trash folder.

If you’re using a .edu email provided by your school, then the email provider is a private, school-owned domain. This means that the school can see all of your deleted emails as they will be stored on their backup drives.

Recommended Reading:

Will My College Email Be Deleted After I Graduate?