Can You Appeal a College Rejection?

A Rejection is Usually the End of the Road, but Not Always

'Rejected' paperwork
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No one likes receiving a college rejection letter, and sometimes the decision to deny you admission seems arbitrary or unfair. But is a rejection letter really the end of the road? In most cases, yes, but there are a few exceptions to the rule.

If you had your heart set on a school that has rejected you, there’s a chance you can appeal the admission decision. However, you should realize that some schools do not allow appeals, and the chance of appealing successfully is always slim. You should not appeal simply because you are upset with the rejection. Even with thousands or tens-of-thousands of applications, the admissions staff reviews each application carefully. You were rejected for a reason, and an appeal will not be successful if your general message is something like, "You clearly made a mistake and failed to recognize how great I am."

Situations in Which an Appeal Might Be Appropriate

Only a couple of circumstances may warrant an appeal. Legitimate justifications for appeal include:

  • You have significant new information to present. Did you just win a major award or honor? Did you just get back test scores that are remarkably better than the ones you originally submitted? Realize that in these situations, many schools will still not allow an appeal — they will ask you to apply again next year. Make sure the information really is significant. An increase of one point on your ACT score or a GPA improvement from a 3.73 to a 3.76 is not significant.
  • You’ve learned of a clerical or procedural error. Were your SAT scores reported incorrectly? Did your high school present inaccurate information on your transcript? Was your application incomplete for reasons outside of your control? You'll need to be able to document the error, but situations such as these are, in fact, good grounds for appeal. Colleges want to be fair, and rejecting you for an error that was entirely outside of your control is not fair.

Situations That Are Not Grounds for an Appeal

  • You’d like the admissions folks to take a second look at your application. The admissions office has procedures to ensure every application is considered thoroughly. At selective schools, applications are almost always read by multiple people. Asking for "a second look" is an insult to the school's procedures and efforts.
  • Your friend with similar scores was admitted. Or even worse, your friend with lower scores  and grades was admitted. Realize that this can happen when colleges have holistic admissions. Special talent or contributions to campus diversity can lift one application above another that has stronger numerical measures.
  • Your grades and scores fall within the norms for the school’s admissions standards. Here again, if a college has holistic admissions, there are a lot more pieces to the equation than grades and test scores. At the country's most selective colleges, most of the rejected students actually had grades and test scores that were on target for admission.
  • You’re convinced that you’d be a great match for the school. This is very likely true, but the sad reality is that colleges have to reject many students who would love to attend. Hopefully your application succeeded in explaining why you think you're a good match, but once you've submitted the application, this isn't a point that you can appeal.
  • You got into some better schools, so the rejection doesn’t make sense. This situation happens, and it's often because the applicant had qualities that were a good match for the more selective school, but perhaps not the right match for the less selective school. Colleges work to enroll students who will thrive, and that determination will vary from school to school.
  • You feel the decision was unfair. This reaction is usually your anger speaking. The decision may be disappointing, but was it really unfair? With selective admissions, there will be winners and losers. Unfairness enters the equation only if there was a procedural error or some kind of unethical behavior on the part of the admissions staff (a remarkably rare occurrence, fortunately).
  • You learned that your great uncle attended the school that rejected you. While legacy status does matter at some schools, it's a small factor, and it really only comes into play for very close family members (parents and siblings).

A Final Word about Appealing a Rejection

All of the advice above is moot if a college simply doesn't allow appeals. You'll need to explore the admissions website or call the admissions office to find out what a specific school's policy is. Columbia University, for example, does not allow appeals. UC Berkeley make clear that appeals are discouraged, and you should appeal only if you have new information that is truly significant. UNC Chapel Hill allows appeals only in situations in which admissions policies have been violated or there was a procedural error.

If you think you do have cause for appeal, be sure to read these related articles: