Ten Questions You Might Be Asked When You Appeal an Academic Dismissal

Think Through Answers to These Questions Before Your In-Person Appeal

If you've been dismissed from college for poor academic performance, chances are you have an opportunity to appeal that decision. And as I've stated in these tips for appealing a dismissal, in most cases you'll want to appeal in person if given the chance.

Make sure you are prepared for your appeal. Meeting with the committee in person (or virtually) isn't going to help you if you aren't able to articulate what went wrong and what you plan to do to address the problems. The ten questions below can help you prepare -- they are all questions that you are likely to be asked during an appeal.

01
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Tell Us What Happened.

Make sure you are prepared when appealing an academic dismissal.
Make sure you are prepared when appealing an academic dismissal. alvarez / E+ / Getty Images

You are almost guaranteed to be asked this question, and you need to have a good answer. As you think about how to respond, be painfully honest with yourself. Don't blame others -- most of your classmates succeeded in the same classes, so those D's and F's are on you. Vague or trivial answers like "I don't really know" or "I guess I should have studied more" aren't going to cut it either.

If you are struggling with mental health issues, be up front about those struggles. If you think you have an addiction problem, don't try to hide that fact. If you play video games ten hours a day, tell the committee. A concrete problem is one that can be addressed and overcome. Vague and evasive answers give the committee members nothing to work with, and they won't be able to see a path to success for you.

02
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What Help Did You Seek Out?

Did you go to professors' office hours? Did you go to the writing center? Did you try to get a tutor? Did you take advantage of special academic services? The answer here might very well be "no," and if that's the case, be honest. I've seen students make claims such as, "I tried to see my professor, but she was never in her office." Such claims are rarely convincing since all professors have regular office hours, and you can always email to schedule an appointment if office hours conflict with your schedule. Any answer with the subtext, "it wasn't my fault that I didn't get help" is likely to go over like a lead balloon.

If the help you needed was medical, not academic, documentation is a good idea. This needs to come from you since medical records are confidential and can't be shared without your permission. So if you are getting counseling or recovering from a concussion, bring in detailed documentation from a physician. The unsubstantiated concussion excuse is one that scholastic standards committees have been seeing more and more frequently in recent years. And while concussions can be very serious and certainly can disrupt one's academic efforts, they are also an easy excuse for a student who isn't doing well academically.

03
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How Much Time Do You Spend on Schoolwork Each Week?

Almost without exception, students who end up being dismissed for poor academic performance don't study enough. The committee is likely to ask you how much you study. Here again, be honest. When a student with a 0.22 GPA says he studies six hours a day, something seems suspicious. A better answer would be something along these lines: "I spend only an hour a day on school work, and I realize that isn't nearly enough."

The general rule for college success is that you should be spending two to three hours on homework and for every hour you spend in the classroom. So if you have a 15-hour course load, that's 30 to 45 hours of homework per week. Yes, college is a full-time job, and students who treat it like part-time work often get into academic trouble.

04
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Did You Miss a Lot of Classes? Why?

I've failed dozens of students in my years as a professor, and for 90% of those students, poor attendance was a significant contributing factor to the "F." The appeals committee is likely to ask you about your attendance. Here again, be honest. The committee very likely got input from your professors before the appeal, so they will know whether or not you attended. Nothing can turn an appeal against you faster than being caught in a lie. If you say you missed just a couple of classes and your professors say you missed four weeks of class, you've lost the trust of the committee. Your answer to this question needs, to be honest, and you need to address why you missed class, even if the reason is embarrassing.

05
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Why Do You Think You Deserve a Second Chance?

The college has invested in you just as you have invested in your college degree. Why should the college give you a second chance when there are talented new students eager to take your place?

This is an awkward question to answer. It's hard to tout how wonderful you are when you have a transcript filled with lousy grades. Keep in mind, however, that the committee is asking this question sincerely, not to embarrass you. Failure is part of learning and growing. This question is your chance to articulate what you've learned from your failures, and what you hope to accomplish and contribute in light of your failures.

06
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What Are You Going to Do to Succeed if You Are Readmitted?

You absolutely must come up with a future success plan before you stand in front of the appeals committee. What college resources will you take advantage of moving forward? How will you change bad habits? How will you get the support you need to succeed? Be realistic -- I have never met a student who overnight went from studying 30 minutes a day to six hours a day.

One brief warning here: Make sure your success plan is placing the primary burden on you, not burdening others. I've seen students say things such as, "I will meet with my advisor every week to discuss my academic progress, and I will get extra help during all of my professor's office hours." While your professors and advisor will want to help you as much as possible, it is unreasonable to think that they can devote an hour or more a week to a single student.

07
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Did Participation in Athletics Hurt Your Academic Performance?

The committee sees this a lot: a student misses lots of classes and devotes too few hours to study, yet miraculously never misses a single team practice. The message this sends to the committee is obvious: the student cares more about sports than education.

If you're an athlete, think about the role athletics played in your poor academic performance and be prepared to address the issue. Realize the best answer may not be, "I'm going to quit the soccer team so that I can study all day long." In some cases, yes, sports simply take up too much time for a student to succeed academically. In other cases, however, athletics provide the type of discipline and grounding that can nicely compliment an academic success strategy. Some students are unhappy, unhealthy, and ungrounded when not playing sports.

However you answer this question, you need to articulate the relationship between sports and your academic performance. Also, you need to address how you will succeed in the future, whether that means taking time off from the team or finding a new time management strategy that will allow you to be a successful athlete and student.

08
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Was Greek Life a Factor in Your Academic Performance?

I've seen many students come before the appeals committee who had failed out because of Greek life -- they were either rushing a Greek organization, or they were spending far more time with Greek affairs than academic affairs.

In these situations, students almost never admitted that a fraternity or sorority was the source of the problem. Loyalty to the Greek organization always seemed to be more important than anything else, and the code of secrecy and fear of reprisal meant that students would never point a finger at their fraternity or sorority.

This is a tough spot to be in, but you should definitely do some soul searching if you find yourself in this situation. If pledging a Greek organization is causing you to sacrifice your college dreams, do you really think membership in that organization is something you should be pursuing? And if you are in a fraternity or sorority and the social demands are so great that they are hurting your school work, is there a way for you to get your college career back in balance? Think carefully about the ​pros and cons of joining a fraternity or sorority.

Students who are tight-lipped when asked about Greek life are not helping their appeal. Frequently the committee members are left feeling that they are not getting the true story, and they will not be sympathetic to the student's situation.

09
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Did Alcohol or Drugs Play a Role in Your Poor Academic Performance?

Many students end up in academic trouble for reasons that have nothing to do with substance abuse, but if drugs or alcohol contributed to your poor academic performance, be prepared to talk about the issue.

Frequently the appeals committee includes someone from student affairs, or the committee has access to student affairs records. Those open container violations and that incident with the bong are likely to be known by the committee, as will reports of disruptive behavior in the residence halls. And trust me, your professors know when you come to class stoned or hungover, just as they can tell that you're missing those morning classes because of hangovers.

If asked about alcohol or drugs, once again your best answer is an honest one: "Yes, I realize I had far too much fun and handled my freedom irresponsibly." Also be prepared to address how you plan to change this destructive behavior, and be honest if you think you have an alcohol problem -- it's an all too common issue.

10
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What Are Your Plans if You Are Not Readmitted?

The success of your appeal is by no means a certainty, and you should never assume that you will be readmitted. The committee is likely to ask you what your plans are if you are suspended or dismissed. Will you get a job? Will you take community college classes? If you answer, "I haven't thought about it," you are showing the committee a) that you aren't thoughtful and b) that you're being presumptuous in assuming you'll be readmitted. So, before your appeal, think about your Plan B.

Need Help?

If you are appealing in writing and would like Allen Grove's help with your own appeal letter, see his bio for details.

Some Final Thoughts

The appeal is not the time for you to appear overly confident and cocky, nor is any kind of posturing or blaming others going to go over well. You are lucky to be given the opportunity to appeal, and you should treat the appeal with respect and contrition. And whatever you do, be honest about what went wrong and have a clear but realistic plan for the future. Good luck!

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