How to Write an Appeal Letter for a College Dismissal

If you've been kicked out of college, these tips may help you get back in

Student stress. Eye Candy Images / UpperCut Images / Getty Images

The consequences of a really bad semester in college can be severe: dismissal. Most colleges, however, provide students with the opportunity to appeal an academic dismissal because they realize that grades never tell the full story. An appeal is an opportunity to provide your college with the context for your academic shortcomings.

There are effective and ineffective ways to make an appeal. These tips can help you get back into good standing at your college.

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Set the Right Tone

From the very opening of your letter, you need to be personal and contrite. The college is doing you a favor by allowing appeals, and committee members are volunteering their time to consider your appeal because they believe in second chances for deserving students. 

Begin your letter by addressing it to the dean or committee handling your appeal. "To Whom It May Concern" may be a typical opening for a business letter, but you most likely have a specific name or committee to whom you can address your letter. Give it a personal touch. Emma's appeal letter provides a good example of an effective opening.

Also, don't make any demands in your letter. Even if you feel that you haven't been treated entirely fairly, express your appreciation for the committee's willingness to consider your appeal. 

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Ensure Your Letter Is Your Own

If you're a student who has earned terrible grades in writing classes and done poorly on essays, the appeals committee is going to be very suspicious if you submit an appeal letter that sounds like it was written by a professional writer. Yes, spend time polishing your letter, but ensure that it is clearly your letter with your language and ideas.

Also, be careful about letting your parents have a heavy hand in the appeal process. Appeals committee members want to see that you—not your parents—are committed to your college success. If it looks like your parents are more interested in appealing your dismissal than you are, your chances for success are slim. Committee members want to see you taking responsibility for your bad grades, and they expect to see you advocating for yourself.

Many students fail out of college for the simple reason that they aren't motivated to do college-level work and earn a degree. If you allow someone else to craft your appeal letter for you, that will confirm any suspicions the committee might have about your motivation levels.

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Be Painfully Honest

The underlying reasons for an academic dismissal vary widely and are often embarrassing. Some students suffer from depression; some tried to go off their meds; some got messed up with drugs or alcohol; some stayed up every night playing video games; some became overwhelmed pledging a Greek.

Whatever the reason for your bad grades, be honest with the appeals committee. Jason's appeal letter, for example, does a good job owning up to his struggles with alcohol. Colleges believe in second chances—it's why they allow you to appeal. If you don't own up to your mistakes, you're showing the committee that you lack the maturity, self-awareness, and integrity that you'll need to succeed in college. The committee will be happy to see you trying to overcome a personal failing; it will be unimpressed if you try to hide your problems.

Realize that the committee will be informed about your behavior on campus. Committee members have access to any judicial reports, and they will receive feedback from your professors. If your appeal seems to contradict the information the committee receives from other sources, it is unlikely to be successful.

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Don't Blame Others

It's easy to get embarrassed and defensive when you fail some classes. Still, no matter how tempting it is to point at others and blame them for your bad grades, the appeals committee will want to see you taking responsibility for your academic performance. The committee will not be impressed if you try to blame those "bad" professors, your psycho roommate, or your unsupportive parents. The grades are your own, and it will be up to you to improve them. Don't do what Brett did in his appeal letter. This is an example of what not to do.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't explain any extenuating circumstances that contributed to your poor academic performance. But in the end, you are the one who failed those exams and papers. You need to convince the appeals committee that you won't let external forces lead you astray.

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Have a Plan

Identifying and owning up to the reasons for your poor academic performance are the first steps to a successful appeal. The equally important next step is presenting a plan for the future. If you were dismissed because of alcohol abuse, are you now seeking treatment for your problem? If you were suffering from depression, are you working with a counselor to try to address the issue? Going forward, are you planning to take advantage of the academic services offered by your college?

The most convincing appeals show that the student has identified the problem and come up with a strategy for addressing issues that led to low grades. If you don't present a plan for the future, the appeals committee is likely to think you will end up repeating the same mistakes.

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Show Humility and Be Polite

It's easy to be angry when you've been academically dismissed. It's easy to feel a sense of entitlement when you've given the university thousands and thousands of dollars. These feelings, however, shouldn't be part of your appeal.

An appeal is a second chance. It is a favor being offered to you. The staff and faculty members on the appeals committee spend a lot of time (often vacation time) to consider appeals. The committee members are not the enemy—they are your allies. As such, an appeal needs to be presented with the appropriate "thank yous" and apologies.

Even if your appeal is denied, send an appropriate note of thanks to the committee for considering your appeal. It's possible you'll be applying for readmission in the future.