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.
  • 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?

    Situations That Are Not Grounds for an Appeal

    • You’d like the admissions folks to take a second look at your application.
    • Your friend with similar scores was admitted.
    • Your grades and scores fall within the norms for the school’s admissions standards (realize that grades and scores are only one part of the admissions process).
    • You’re convinced that you’d be a great match for the school.
    • You got into some better schools, so the rejection doesn’t make sense.
    • You feel the decision was unfair.
    • You learned that your great uncle attended the school that rejected you.

    To know whether or not a college allows appeals, you should first browse the website. If you can’t find any information, then call the admissions office. Below are a few examples of different policies regarding appeals:

    • University of California at Berkeley: We strongly discourage letters of appeal unless you can provide significant new information for us to consider. Our freshman selection process involves a careful, individual reading of each application and it is very unlikely that we will choose to reverse our original decision. If you do have significant new information to present and decide to appeal our admissions decision, please submit your request in writing. Learn more at Berkeley Admissions: 
    • Columbia University: May students rejected from Columbia appeal their admission decision?​ No. If your application to Columbia is denied, that decision is final. There is no appeal process for admission decisions, and applicants are not reconsidered for admission. Every application receives a review from members of the professional admissions staff. As we do feel confident that our decisions, however difficult, are commitments that we make only after the care and deliberation that all our candidates deserve, we must say once again that we cannot accept any requests for reconsideration of these decisions. From
    • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: May I appeal an admissions decision? According to the policy revised by the Board of Trustees on January 17, 2006, appeals concerning individual admission, or admission rescission, decisions may be had only if it is contended that: (a) a provision set forth in The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Admissions Policy (“Admissions Policy”) has been violated; or (b) the decision not to admit the individual or to rescind admission resulted from a material procedural error in the admissions process. Appeals must be made by the applicant in writing to the Director of Undergraduate of Admissions within 30 days after the applicant has received the decision letter.

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