Tips for Appealing a College Rejection Decision

Be Sure to Follow These Tips When Appealing a College Rejection

Woman Writing a Letter
Woman Writing a Letter. Todd Warnock / Moment / Getty Images

Let me begin with this perhaps discouraging note: In general, you shouldn't challenge a rejection letter. Decisions are nearly always final, and you are most likely wasting your time and the time of the admissions folks if you appeal. Before you decide to appeal, be sure to read this article on legitimate reasons to appeal a rejection.

If you think you are going to appeal, these tips can help guide you in the process:

  • First, try to find out why you were rejected. This can be done with a polite phone call or email message to your admissions representative. When contacting the admissions office, a little humility can be helpful. Don't challenge the admissions decision or suggest that the school made the wrong decision. You are simply trying to learn about any weaknesses the college found in your application.
  • If you find you were rejected for something that hasn't changed--grades, SAT scores, lack of depth in extracurricular activities--thank the admissions officer for his or her time, and move on. An appeal isn't going to be appropriate or helpful.

If you decide to move forward with an appeal, keep these points in mind:

  • The admissions officers weren't wrong in their decision, even if you think they were. Suggesting they were wrong will simply make them defensive, make you appear arrogant, and hurt your cause.
  • If you are appealing because of an administrative error from your high school (grades reported incorrectly, a misdirected letter, miscalculated class rank, etc.), present the error in your letter, and accompany your letter with a letter from your high school counselor to legitimize your claim. Have your school send a new official transcript if appropriate.
  • If you have new information to share, make sure it is significant. If your SAT scores went up 10 points or your GPA climbed .04 points, don't bother appealing. If, on the other hand, you just had your best quarter ever in high school by far, or you got back SAT scores that were 120 points higher, this information is worth sharing. 
  • The same can be said for extracurricular activities and awards. A participation certificate for a spring soccer camp is not going to make the school reverse a rejection decision. Learning that you made the All-American team, however, is worth sharing. 
  • Always be polite and appreciative. Recognize that the admissions officers have a tough job, and that you realize how competitive the process is. At the same time, reaffirm your interest in the school and present your meaningful new information. 
  • An appeal letter need not be long. In fact, it is best to respect the busy schedules of the admissions folks and keep your letter brief and focused.
  • A physical letter is less likely to get dismissed or lost than an email message, so take the extra minute it takes to address and stamp an envelope.

These sample appeal letters can help guide you in the process:

Again, be realistic when approaching an appeal. You are unlikely to be successful, and in most cases an appeal is not appropriate. Many schools don't even consider appeals. In some cases, however, an appeal can succeed when your credentials have changed measurably, or a detrimental error in your academic record or application is corrected.