Appealing a College Rejection? Don't Write This Letter

A Letter Like This Will Not Help Your Cause

Woman Reading a Letter
Woman Reading a Letter. Pawel Gaul / E+ / Getty Images

In general, a rejection letter from a college is the end of the road for the current admissions cycle. If your heart is 100% on the school, you can try taking a gap year, beefing up your credentials, and applying again in the fall. You can also attend another college and then try to transfer. Neither strategy has any guarantee of success, but you do have those options.

In a few cases and at some schools, you can appeal a rejection from a college.

Some schools explicitly state that they will not accept any appeals, and that decisions are final (that said, if there has been a serious administrative error, call the admissions office anyway). Be sure to read this article for a discussion of acceptable reasons for appealing a decision: Can I Appeal an Admissions Decision?

If you do appeal, make sure you do it well. Here's a sample appeal letter that works. Joe is polite, respectful, and has significant new information to share with the college.

Below is an example of what not to do. You'll find a critique of the letter later in this article.

Mary's Letter:

Ms. Jane Gatekeeper
Director of Admissions
Ivy Tower College
Collegetown, USA

Dear Ms. Gatekeeper,

I am writing in regards to my rejection from Ivy Tower College. Ivy Tower has always been my dream school, and I was extremely upset to receive a rejection letter. I hope after you read my letter you will reconsider your decision and admit me to Ivy Tower.

As you know from my application, I am ranked 20 out of 430 in my high school. That puts me in the top 5% of my class. One of my classmates who was admitted to Ivy Tower College was ranked 47, not even in the top 10% of students. It doesn't seem fair that you would accept a student who has lower grades than me when your application materials state that a strong academic record is the most important part of an application.

I also want to explain my SAT scores. I know they are a bit below the norm for Ivy Tower College, but this is because I suffer from test anxiety and never live up to my potential during standardized tests. I'm sure if I didn't have an anxiety problem, my SAT scores would be in the top 5% just like my grades. 

I know that if I am admitted to Ivy Tower College I will do well in my classes and prove to you that accepting me was the right decision.

Thank you for taking the time to reconsider my application with this new information.


Mary Anystudent

Critique of Mary's Letter:

Mary does several things wrong in her letter. Her second paragraph voices a common complaint from rejected students: why was she rejected when a student with a lower GPA was admitted? This doesn't seem fair, and Mary is quick to complain. She shouldn't. Admission to selective colleges is always a holistic process. Yes, grades matter, but so do extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and the application essay. An interesting student who is ranked 47 but will clearly bring a lot to a campus community may very well be admitted, while a cookie-cutter applicant who is ranked 20 might be rejected. Also, by singling out her classmate and suggesting that the person is an inferior applicant, Mary comes across sounding petty and back-stabbing.

Mary's third paragraph also isn't doing her any favors. Her SAT scores were clearly a weak spot in her application, and Mary is aware of this. Yet her explanation for her scores isn't going to make anyone reconsider her application. Test anxiety is certainly a real thing, and many students don't test well. If, however, her anxiety is so great that it gets in the way of her performing up to her potential, she needs to work with her school counselor and the College Board to get appropriate accommodations. And the time to figure out those accommodations was before the SAT, something she seems to have not done. Colleges are more than willing to provide accommodations for students who have been diagnosed with a learning challenge and qualify for special testing arrangements. Students who fail to seek accommodations for which they qualify often do poorly in college, and Mary is revealing herself to be this latter type of student.

Finally, the general tone of Mary's letter is going to be off-putting to the admissions folks. Despite her claim that she is presenting "new information," she is not providing anything new. The letter does not provide new SAT scores or any new accomplishments or awards. Essentially, the letter says, "Dear Admissions Folks: You made a mistake by not admitting me." The admissions office doesn't want to hear that they don't know how to do their jobs.

Granted, nothing is lost by writing this letter: Mary was rejected, and she will remain rejected. That said, Mary would have saved everyone some aggravation is she didn't appeal at all.