Originally Posted: Feb 28, 2018
Last Updated: Apr 15, 2020
So you got the thin envelope. I know...huge bummer. Fortunately, in some circumstances, your case isn’t always closed upon that first rejection letter. Some colleges give prospective students the opportunity to appeal their admission decision by writing an appeal letter—a formal request to the college asking them to reconsider your application.
This might feel like the most important letter you’ll ever write in your life, but the art of writing a great college decision appeal has less to do with your skills as a writer and more to do with why you’re appealing it in the first place. Below are a few very valid reasons you might appeal.
If a part of your application was missing
Your high school guidance counselor is a human being and makes mistakes too. Maybe they forgot to submit a recommendation letter and you realized too late that it affected your admission decision. Or perhaps something went wrong with submitting your test scores and they never arrived. Whatever the case, if you suspect that you were rejected because something was missing from the dozens of documents that every applicant must submit, appealing your decision might be worthwhile.
If you’re a one-trick pony
If you’re a student who got the top score on one section of the ACT and the lowest score on another section, contact the college’s department for your perspective major when you submit an appeal. Maybe the school would accept you if the English department could vouch for your potential to become the next great American author, or the Science department could boost your application if they knew you’d conducted leading cancer research. In addition, include anything you’ve accomplished since you last applied, provide documentation if possible, and make sure it is truly significant.
If it’s a less selective school
You have a better chance of having a successful appeal if the school in question accepts a higher percentage of its applicants. The more selective the school, the more selective the appeals process. Additionally, more selective schools receive more appeal letters, as they reject more students, so you’ll be thrown into a larger pile and given less of a chance. Again, sending an appeal letter can never hurt, but know where the odds are in your favor and where they are not, and adjust your hopes accordingly.
If you upped your test scores (a lot)
If you retook the SAT or ACT and your scores changed drastically—far more than a point or two—you should definitely consider submitting an appeal letter. Test scores can really affect admission decisions, as colleges use them to measure students from very different schools against each another equally. So if you up your scores, you may up your chances of being accepted.
If there’s an inaccuracy in your transcript
Did your transcript not show a class you took over the summer at a community college? Was there an error with a grade or your demographic information? If any vital information on your transcript was left out or if something was incorrect, you should consider appealing.
What if the school doesn't accept appeals?
Keep in mind that some colleges don’t accept appeals, and those that do usually stand by their original decision. Before you start writing, be sure to check the college’s policy on admission decision appeals. You might be able to find their policy online on their admission homepage, but your best bet is to just call the admission office and ask. However, if the school you've got your eye on accepts appeals, what's the harm in trying?
Do I need to grovel?
Your tone should be formal and polite, not desperate or bitter. Colleges don’t care how upset you are about not getting in. They do, however, care why you genuinely feel as though a mistake was made in their decision. Additionally, you should proofread your letter at least five times before you send it. Have every English teacher you have ever had proofread it. Make sure this letter reads as the absolute best it can be. You wouldn’t want to have your appeal denied because of a few easily avoided typos.
Here’s a pro tip for appealing an admission decision: sometimes the school “encourages” you to send extra information, such as another recommendation or supplemental essays, along with your appeal. That “encouragement” is code for requirement—send it or you probably won’t stand much of a chance.
And one last thing: if you didn’t get into your dream school, or if your appeal letter isn’t successful, don’t let this rejection get you down. Be sure to have a backup plan that will make you happy, and remember that college is what you make of it. This moment will be a far-distant memory in the fall when you’re having fun at a school that truly fits you!
For more tips on the college application process, check out our articles and advice on college admission!