How to Appeal a Dismissal From College

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No one has ever entered college with the goal of being suspended or dismissed. Unfortunately, life happens. Perhaps you simply weren't quite ready for the challenges of college or the freedom of living on your own. Or maybe you encountered factors outside of your control — illness, injury, a family crisis, depression, death of a friend, or some other distraction that made college a lower priority than it needed to be.

Whatever the situation, the good news is that an academic dismissal is rarely the last word on the matter. Nearly all colleges allow students to appeal a dismissal. Schools realize that your GPA doesn't tell the whole story and that there are always factors that contributed to your poor academic performance. An appeal gives you the opportunity to put your grades into context, explain what went wrong, and convince the appeals committee that you have a plan for future success.

If Possible, Appeal in Person

Some colleges allow written appeals only, but if you have the option of appealing in person, you should take advantage of the opportunity. The members of the appeals committee will think you are more committed to being readmitted if you take the trouble to travel back to college to make your case, or even if you make the effort to show up for a video conference. Even if the thought of appearing in front of the committee terrifies you, it is still usually a good idea. In fact, genuine nervousness and tears can sometimes make the committee more sympathetic to you. Don't fake them, but don't worry about becoming emotional during your appeal.

You will want to be well prepared for your meeting and follow strategies for a successful in-person appeal. Show up on time, well dressed, and by yourself (you don't want it to look as though your parents are dragging you to your appeal). If you're appealing via Zoom or Skype, don't have your parents in the room off camera—the committee can often tell you aren't alone, and you'll be putting yourself in an awkward position. Also, be sure to think about the types of questions you're likely to be asked during an appeal. The committee will certainly want to know what went wrong, and they'll want to know what your plan is for future success. They may also ask you what you will do if your appeal is denied.

Be painfully honest when you're speaking with the committee members. They will have received information from your professors and advisors as well as student life personnel, so they're going to know if you're holding back information.

Make the Most of a Written Appeal

Often in-person appeals require a written statement, and in other situations, an appeal letter is your only option for pleading your case. In either situation, your appeal letter needs to be crafted effectively. 

To write a successful appeal letter, you need to be polite, humble, and honest. Make your letter personal, and address it to the Dean or the members of the committee who will be considering your appeal. Be respectful, and always keep in mind that you are asking for a favor. The appeal letter is no place to express anger or entitlement.

For an example of a good letter by a student who was overwhelmed by problems at home, be sure to read Emma's appeal letter. Emma owns up to mistakes she made, summarizes the situation that led to the bad grades, and explains how she will avoid similar problems in the future. Her letter focuses on a single and serious distraction from school, and she remembers to thank the committee in her closing.

Many appeals are based on situations that are more embarrassing and less sympathetic than a family crisis. When you read Jason's appeal letter, you'll learn that his failing grades were the result of problems with alcohol. Jason approaches this situation the only way that is likely to be successful in an appeal: he owns up to it. His letter is honest about what went wrong and just as important, it is clear in the steps that Jason has taken that he has plans to get his problems with alcohol under control. His polite and honest approach to his situation is likely to win the sympathy of the appeals committee.

Avoid Common Mistakes When Writing Your Appeal

If the best appeal letters own up to the student's failures in a polite and honest way, it shouldn't be a surprise that unsuccessful appeals do just the opposite. Brett's appeal letter makes some serious mistakes beginning in the very first paragraph. Brett is quick to blame others for his problems, and rather than look in the mirror, he points to his professors as the source of his low grades.

We clearly aren't getting the full story in Brett's letter, and he doesn't convince anyone that he is putting in the hard work that he claims he is. What exactly has Brett been doing with his time that has led to his academic failure? The committee doesn't know, and the appeal is likely to fail for that reason.

A Final Word on Appealing a Dismissal

If you're reading this, you're most likely in the unenviable position of being dismissed from college. Don't lose hope of returning to school just yet. Colleges are learning environments, and the faculty and staff members on the appeals committee are fully aware that students make mistakes and have bad semesters. Your job is to show that you have the maturity to own up to your mistakes and that you have the ability to learn from your missteps and devise a plan for future success. If you can do both of these things, you have a good chance of appealing successfully.

Finally, even if your appeal is not successful, realize that dismissal doesn't need to be the end of your college aspirations. Many dismissed students enroll in a community college, prove that they are capable of succeeding in college coursework, and then reapply to either their original institution or another four-year college. In many cases, a little time away to reflect, grow, learn, and mature is a good thing.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. "How to Appeal a Dismissal From College." ThoughtCo, Feb. 1, 2021, Grove, Allen. (2021, February 1). How to Appeal a Dismissal From College. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "How to Appeal a Dismissal From College." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).