Sample Appeal Letter for an Academic Dismissal

Dismissed from College? This Sample Letter Can Help Guide Your Appeal.

Stressed college student
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If you've been dismissed from college for poor academic performance, chances are your college gives you an opportunity to appeal that decision. If you can appeal in person, that will be your best approach. If the school doesn't allow face-to-face appeals, or if the travel costs are prohibitive, you'll want to write the best appeal letter possible. At some schools, you might be asked to do both—the appeals committee will ask for a letter in advance of the in-person meeting.

Successful Appeal Letters

  1. Should show that you understand what went wrong.
  2. Should show that you take responsibility for the academic failures.
  3. Should show that you have a plan for future academic success.
  4. Should show broadly that you are being honest with yourself and the committee

In the sample letter below, Emma was dismissed after she ran into academic trouble because of difficulties at home. She uses her letter to explain the extenuating circumstances that caused her to perform below her potential. After reading the letter, be sure to read the discussion of the letter so that you understand what Emma does well in her appeal and what could use a little more work. 

Emma's Appeal Letter

Dear Dean Smith and Members of the Scholastic Standards Committee:
I am writing to appeal my academic dismissal from Ivy University. I was not surprised, but very upset to receive a letter earlier this week informing me of my dismissal. I'm writing with the hope that you will reinstate me for next semester. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to explain my circumstances.
I admit I had a very difficult time last semester, and my grades suffered as a result. I don't mean to make excuses for my poor academic performance, but I would like to explain the circumstances. I knew that registering for 18 credit hours in the spring would require a lot of me, but I needed to earn the hours so that I was on track to graduate on time. I thought I could handle the workload, and I still think I could have, except that my father became very ill in February. While he was home sick and unable to work, I had to drive home every weekend and some weeknights to help out with household duties and to care for my little sister. Needless to say, the hour-long drive each way cut into my study time, as did the chores I had to do at home. Even when I was at school, I was very distracted with the home situation and was unable to focus on my schoolwork. I understand now that I should have communicated with my professors (instead of avoiding them), or even taken a leave of absence. I thought I could handle all of these burdens, and I tried my best, but I was wrong.
I love Ivy University, and it would mean so much to me to graduate with a degree from this school, which would make me the first person in my family to complete a college degree. If I am reinstated, I will focus much better on my schoolwork, take fewer hours, and manage my time more wisely. Fortunately, my father is recovering and has returned to work, so I should not need to travel home nearly as often. Also, I have met with my advisor, and I will follow her advice about communicating better with my professors from now on.
Please understand that my low GPA that led to my dismissal does not indicate that I am a bad student. Really, I'm a good student who had one very, very bad semester. I hope you will give me a second chance. Thank you for considering this appeal.
Emma Undergrad

A quick word of warning before we discuss the details of Emma's letter: Do not copy this letter or parts of this letter in your own appeal! Many students have made this mistake, and academic standards committees are familiar with this letter and recognize its language. Nothing will torpedo your appeal efforts faster than a plagiarized appeal letter. The letter needs to be your own.

A Critique of Emma's Letter

First off, we need to recognize that any student who has been dismissed from college has an uphill battle to fight. The college has indicated that it lacks confidence in your ability to succeed academically, so the appeal letter must re-instill that confidence. 

A successful appeal must do several things:

  1. show that you understand what went wrong
  2. show that you take responsibility for the academic failures
  3. show that you have a plan for future academic success
  4. in a broad sense, show that you are being honest with yourself and the committee

Many students who appeal an academic dismissal make a serious mistake by trying to place the blame for their problems on someone else. Certainly external factors can contribute to academic failure, but in the end, you are the one who failed those papers and exams. It is not a bad thing to own up to your miscalculations and mistakes. In fact, doing so reveals great maturity. The appeals committee does not expect college students to be perfect. A big part of college is making mistakes and then learning from them, so it makes sense that a successful appeal shows that you recognize your mistakes and have learned from them.

Emma's appeal succeeds pretty well in all of the above areas. First of all, she does not try to blame anyone but herself. Sure, she has extenuating circumstances—her father's illness—and she is wise to explain those circumstances. However, she acknowledges that she did not handle her situation well. She should have been in contact with her professors when she was struggling. She should have withdrawn from classes and taken a leave of absence when her father's illness started to dominate her life. She didn't do either of these things, yet she doesn't try to make excuses for her mistakes.

The overall tone of Emma's letter sounds pleasingly sincere. The committee now knows why Emma had such bad grades, and the reasons seem both plausible and pardonable. Assuming she did earn solid grades in her earlier semesters, the committee is likely to believe Emma's claim that she is a "good student who had one very, very bad semester."

Emma also presents a plan for her future success. The committee will be pleased to hear that she is communicating with her advisor. In fact, Emma would be wise to have her advisor write a letter of support to go with her appeal.

A couple pieces of Emma's future plan could use a little more detail. She says she "will focus much better on [her] schoolwork" and "manage [her] time more wisely." The committee is likely to want to hear more on these points. Should another family crisis arise, why will her focus be better the second time around? Why will she be able to focus better? Also, what exactly is her time management plan? She won't become a better time manager simply be saying she will do so. How exactly is she going to learn and develop more effective time management strategies? Are there services at her school to help with her time management strategies? If so, she should mention those services.

On the whole, however, Emma comes across as a student who deserves a second chance. Her letter is polite and respectful, and she is honest with the committee about what went wrong. A severe appeals committee may reject the appeal because of the mistakes Emma made, but at many colleges, they would be willing to give her a second chance.

More on Academic Dismissals

Emma's letter provides a good example of a strong appeal letter, and these six tips for appealing an academic dismissal can help guide you as you craft your own letter. Also, there are many less sympathetic reasons for being kicked out of college than we see in Emma's situation. Jason's appeal letter takes on a more difficult task, for he was dismissed because alcohol took over his life and led to academic failure. Finally, if you want to see some common mistakes students make when appealing, check out Brett's weak appeal letter