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, your college will most likely give you an opportunity to appeal that decision. The best approach is to appeal in person, but if the school doesn't allow face-to-face appeals or if the travel costs are prohibitive, you should plan to write the best appeal letter possible. (In some cases, you might be asked to do both—the appeals committee will ask for a letter in advance of the in-person meeting.)

Qualities of a Successful Appeal Letter

  • Demonstrates an understanding of what went wrong
  • Takes responsibility for academic failures
  • Outlines a clear plan for future academic success
  • Conveys points in an honest tone

In the sample letter below, Emma was dismissed from college 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 appeal, be sure to read the discussion below so that you understand what Emma does well and what could use a little more work. 

Emma's Appeal Letter

ThoughtCo.
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 to you with the hope to be reinstated 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 as to be 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.
Sincerely,
Emma Undergrad

A quick word of warning before discussing 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.

Critique of Sample Appeal Letter

Any student who has been dismissed from college has an uphill battle to fight. By dismissing you from your degree, 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 demonstrate that you understand what went wrong, take responsibility for the academic failures, outline a clear plan for future academic success, and demonstrate that you are being honest with yourself and the committee.

Own Your Mistakes

Many students who appeal an academic dismissal make the mistake of attempting to place the blame for their problems on someone else. Certainly, external factors can contribute to academic failure, and it is fair to describe extenuating circumstances. However, it is important to own up to your own mistakes.

In fact, acknowledging mistakes is a major sign of maturity. Remember that the appeals committee does not expect college students to be perfect; instead, they want to see that you recognize your mistakes and have learned from them.

Emma's appeal succeeds fairly well in all of the above areas. First of all, she does not try to blame anyone but herself. She has extenuating circumstances—her father's illness—and she is wise to explain them, but she doesn't make excuses. Instead, she acknowledges that she did not handle her situation well.

She owns up to the fact that she should have been in contact with her professors when she was struggling and ultimately should have withdrawn from classes and taken a leave of absence when her father's illness started to dominate her life.

Be Honest

The overall tone of Emma's letter is 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."

Be Specific About Your Plan for Success

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 few elements of Emma's future plan could use a little more detail. She says that 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. If another family crisis arises, what will Emma do to ensure that she is able to stay focused on schoolwork? What is her time management plan? She won't become a better time manager simply be saying she will do so.

Emma should be more specific. 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, Emma should mention those services and describe how she will utilize them.

On the whole, 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 many colleges 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