Sample Appeal Letter for an Alcohol-Related Academic Dismissal

Dismissed from College for Substance Abuse? Read This Sample Appeal Letter

Beer Pong Cups
Beer Pong Cups. G M / Flickr

Alcohol and drugs play a significant role in many college dismissals. Students who spend much of the week impaired aren't going to do well in college, and the consequences can be the end of their college careers.

Not surprisingly, however, students are extremely reluctant to admit that alcohol or drug abuse was the cause of their academic failures. While students are quick to identify family problems, mental health issues, roommate situations, relationship problems, assaults, concussions, and other factors as the reasons for poor academic performance, almost never does a student admit that substance abuse was the issue.

The reasons for this denial are many. Students may fear that admitting to the use of illegal drugs will hurt, not help, their appeals. The same can be said for under-age drinking. Also, many people with alcohol and drug problems deny the problem to themselves as well as others.

Honesty Is Best For an Alcohol-Related Academic Dismissal

If you've been dismissed from college for poor academic performance that is the result of alcohol or drug abuse, your appeal is a time to take a careful look in the mirror and be honest. The best appeals are always honest, no matter how embarrassing the circumstances. For one, the appeals committee knows when students are withholding information or being misleading in their appeals. The committee will have lots of information from your professors, administrators, and student affairs personnel. All those missed Monday classes are a pretty clear sign of hangovers.

If you've been coming to class stoned, don't assume your professors don't notice. If you're always at the center of the college party scene, your RAs and RDs know this.

Will being honest about your substance abuse result in a successful appeal? Not always, but you're more likely to succeed than if you try to hide the problem.

The college may still decide that you need time off to mature and address your problems. However, if you are honest in your appeal, acknowledge your mistakes, and show that you are taking steps to change your behavior, your college may give you a second chance.

Sample Appeal Letter for Alcohol-Related Academic Dismissal

The sample appeal letter below is from Jason who was dismissed after a terrible semester in which he passed just one of his four classes and earned a .25 GPA. After reading Jason's letter, be sure to read the discussion of the letter so that you understand what Jason does well in his appeal and what could use a little more work. Also be sure check out these 6 tips for appealing an academic dismissal and tips for an in-person appeal. Here's Jason's letter:

Dear Members of the Scholastic Standards Committee:

Thank you for taking the time to consider this appeal.

My grades at Ivy College have never been great, but as you know, this past semester they were horrible. When I received news that I was dismissed from Ivy, I can't say that I was surprised. My failing grades are an accurate reflection of my effort this past semester. And I wish I had a good excuse for my failure, but I don't.

From my very first semester at Ivy College, I've had a great time. I've made lots of friends, and I've never turned down an opportunity to party. In my first two semesters of college, I rationalized my "C" grades as the result of the greater demands of college compared to high school. After this semester of failing grades, however, I've been forced to recognize that my behavior and irresponsibility are the issues, not the academic demands of college.

I was an "A" student in high school because I am capable of good work when I set my priorities correctly. Unfortunately, I have not handled the freedom of college well. In college, especially this past semester, I let my social life spin out of control, and I lost sight of why I am in college. I slept through a lot of classes because I was up until daybreak partying with friends, and I missed other classes because I was in bed with a hangover. When given the choice between going to a party or studying for an exam, I chose the party. I even missed quizzes and exams this semester because I didn't make it to class. I am obviously not proud of this behavior, nor is it easy for me to admit, but I realize I can't hide from reality.

I've had many difficult conversations with my parents about the reasons for my failing semester, and I am grateful that they have pressured me into seeking help so that I can succeed in the future. In truth, I don't think I'd be owning up to my behavior now if my parents hadn't forced me to be honest with them (lying has never worked with them). With their encouragement, I have had two meetings with a behavioral therapist here in my hometown. We have begun discussing the reasons why I drink and how my behavior has changed between high school and college. My therapist is helping me identify ways to change my behavior so that I don't depend on alcohol to enjoy college. 

Attached to this letter, you will find a letter from my therapist outlining our plans for the coming semester should I be readmitted. We also had a conference call with John at the counseling center at Ivy College, and if I am readmitted, I will be meeting with him regularly during the semester. I have given John permission to confirm these plans with the members of the committee. My dismissal has been a big wake-up call for me, and I am very aware that if my behavior doesn't change, I don't deserve to attend Ivy. My dream has always been to study business at Ivy, and I am disappointed in myself for letting my behavior get in the way of that dream. I am confident, however, that with the support and awareness that I now have, I can be successful at Ivy if given a second chance. I hope you will give me the opportunity to prove to you that I am capable of being a strong student.

Thank you again for taking the time to consider my appeal. Please don't hesitate to contact me if any members of the committee have questions that I haven't answered in my letter.

Sincerely,

Jason

Analysis and Critique of the Appeal Letter

First of all, a written appeal is fine, but in-person is better. Some colleges will require a letter along with an in-person appeal, but Jason should definitely strengthen his letter with an in-person appeal if given the opportunity.

If he does appeal in person, he should follow these guidelines.

Like Emma (whose poor performance was due to a family illness), Jason has an uphill battle to fight to get readmitted to his college. In fact, Jason's case is probably more difficult than Emma's because his circumstances are less sympathetic. Jason's failure is the result of his own behavior and decisions more than any forces that were outside of his control. His letter needs to prove to the appeals committee that he has owned up to his problematic behavior and has taken steps to address the issues that led to his failing grades.

As with any appeal, Jason's letter must accomplish several things:

  1. Show that he understands what went wrong
  2. Show that he has taken responsibility for the academic failures
  3. Show that he has a plan for future academic success
  4. Show that he is being honest with himself and the appeals committee

Jason could have tried to blame others for his problems. He could have made up an illness or blamed an out-of-control roommate. To his credit, he does not do this. From the beginning of his letter, Jason owns up to his bad decisions and acknowledges that his academic failure is a problem that he created himself. This is a wise approach. College is a time of new freedoms, and it is a time to experiment and make mistakes. The members of the appeals committee understand this, and they will be pleased to see that Jason acknowledges that he didn't handle the freedom of college well. This honesty shows far more maturity and self-awareness than an appeal that tries to deflect responsibility onto someone else.

In the four points above, Jason's appeal does a pretty good job. He clearly understands why he failed his classes, he has owned up to his mistakes, and his appeal certainly seems, to be honest. A student who confesses to missing exams because of excessive drinking is not someone who is trying to lie to the committee.

Plans for Future Academic Success

Jason could do a bit more with #3, his plans for future academic success. Meeting with the behavioral therapist and school counselor are certainly important pieces to Jason's future success, but they are not a complete map to success. Jason could strengthen his letter with a bit more detail on this front. How will he involve his academic advisor in his efforts to turn around his grades? How does he plan to make up the failed classes? What class schedule is he planning for the upcoming semester? How will he navigate the social scene that he has been immersed in over the past three semesters? 

Jason's problems are ones that the appeals committee will have seen before, but most students are not so honest in their failures. The honesty will certainly work in Jason's favor. That said, different schools have different policies when it comes to underage drinking, and it is always possible that his appeal will not be granted because of an inflexible college policy. At the same time, it is also possible that Jason's punishment will be lessened. For example, instead of dismissal, he may be suspended for a semester or two.

On the whole, Jason comes across as an honest student who has potential but made some all-too-common college mistakes. He has taken meaningful steps to address his failures. His letter is clear and respectful. Also, because this is Jason's first time that he has found himself in academic trouble, he will be a more sympathetic case than a repeat offender. His readmission is certainly not a given, but I do think the appeals committee will be impressed by his letter and give his readmission serious consideration.

If you'd like Allen Grove's help with your own appeal letter, see his bio for details.

A Final ​Note

Students who find themselves in academic trouble because of alcohol or drug abuse should consult with professionals for guidance and support.