How to Write an Appeal Letter for College (and Whether You Should)

January 31, 2023

appeal letter college

If you are a fan of podcasts like Serial, documentaries like Making a Murderer, and the billions of similar wrongful convictions stories that have been chronicled across various mediums in recent years, then you are already somewhat familiar with the concept of an appeals process. Fortunately, if you are reading this article, it is more likely that you find yourself rejected by your first-choice college than incarcerated for a crime you didn’t commit (silver linings everywhere!). Jokes aside, getting rejected from your dream schools is a legitimately painful emotional experience. It’s a lot to process, and while adults can tell you that “Everything happens for a reason” and that “Your backup school would be a dream school for many” (both true, by the way), you may still wish to take one final Hail Mary which brings us the subject of how to write an appeal letter for college.

How to Write an Appeal Letter for College

Can you appeal a college rejection? At some schools, the answer is “Yes”–at others–the answer is “No.” Let’s dive in and discuss whether this is the right choice for you and, if so, the logistics of penning and filing an appeal.

Step #1: Act Fast

If you’re going to appeal, you’ll want to do so within days of receiving the rejection. Upon releasing admissions decisions, colleges are already shoulder-deep in the creation of their freshman class. As such, schools often put a limit on how late they will accept an appeals letter. For example, Georgia Tech, UCLA, and the University of Maryland all have a deadline of April 15. Even if a school doesn’t publicly state a specific date, try to expedite this process as much as possible.

Step #2: Research the school-specific appeals process

Not all schools consider appeals letters from rejected applicants. Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton do not allow the submission of an appeals letter under any circumstances. It is much more common for public schools to offer a formal appeals process. However, many private schools do offer some level of guidance on their website as well. A simple Google search of “appeals letter _____ University” will get the job done.

Step #3: Identify the core of your argument

The basis for appeal should be clear and able to be presented in a concise manner and should be made by the applicant, not their parents. Further, the basis for appeal has to be substantive and should not include any of the following all-too-common arguments/actions:

  1. Resubmitting materials that were already on your original application. Remember, they already read your “Why us” essay, extracurriculars, awards, etc.
  2. Comparing yourself to a classmate who was admitted and expressing that you deserved it more. Arguments like this will not even be considered.
  3. Listing other schools that admitted you. Frankly, they really aren’t interested.
  4. Citing legacy status or other family connections to the university. This was already considered by the committee when they made their decision.

Turning to more legit reasons to appeal an admissions decision, here are the most common:

  1. You have a previously undisclosed health condition or personal issue that could change the way your application is viewed. If revealing a health condition, a letter from your physician or other documentation is worth including. Keep in mind that if you already disclosed this in your original application, this would not be valid grounds for appeal.
  2. Your grades or test scores were reported incorrectly on the application. This does happen occasionally, believe it or not. If this is the case, provide documentation of the correct materials and place this info front and center when crafting the letter.
  3. Your grades or test scores have dramatically improved since your application was reviewed. For example, let’s say that you were rejected by UIUC’s Gies College of Business and had a 1340 SAT at the time. Your latest results just came back as a 1500. Well, that is a jump worth reporting! In fact, that level of improvement would take an applicant from below the 25th percentile of accepted applicants all the way above the 75th.

Step #4: Compose a letter with a friendly and humble tone.

This is pretty obvious, but we know from experience that this next nugget of advice still needs to be stated explicitly: Don’t accuse the admissions committee of being unfair or not doing their due diligence the first time (e.g. “I know how overworked admissions officers are and this may have caused you to rush through my application review…”). Be humble, polite, gracious, respectful, and extremely grateful for their time in reviewing the appeal.

Step #5: Keep moving forward

Keep in mind that the chances of a successful appeal are less than 1%. Therefore, while spending time crafting a quality appeals letter can be worthwhile if the core of your case for admission is strong, don’t forget the statistical reality of this pursuit. Getting overly bogged down in appeals can end up being detrimental to other areas of your life. This includes working on deciding which of the colleges that you have been admitted into is the best fit. Also continue to finish out your high school career on a strong note, enjoy your extracurriculars, and savor your final months living with family and hanging out with your friends.

How to Write an Appeal Letter for College – Final Thoughts

As applicants and as the parents of those applicants it is perfectly normal to, upon word of a college rejection, exclaim, “This must be a mistake!” While it likely isn’t an actual error, the rejection of many highly-qualified applicants from the nation’s top schools is an unfortunate phenomenon of modern American society. When you review the Hardest Colleges to Get Into, you notice more and more prominent schools with 5-10% acceptance rates. Each year, those schools reject 90%-95% of those who apply, the majority of whom can make a sincerely terrific case that they should have been accepted.

In sum, if you have a genuine case for an appeal, go ahead and write an appeal letter to college. However, the more important action will be evaluating which prospective college can do the most for you.

If you are looking for advice on how to write a financial aid appeal letter, visit this previous post.  If you’re looking to appeal a homicide conviction, we recommend reaching out to a podcaster or documentarian near you.