How to Appeal a Rejection Letter
Why The Information that Makes Your Reversal Successful Isn't Always New and Compelling to You.
About the Author:
David Reynaldo is the founder of College Zoom. We've honed our strategies and methods for appeals and waitlist letters over the past 13 years and have won appeals at top 25 ranked universities every year. Ranked #1 in Los Angeles (Yelp), we've even helped students succeed on appeals despite having academic qualifications that place them in the bottom 25%, 15%, 10% and 5% of the admissions pool.
The Appeal Process:
Did you know that many universities will let you appeal an admissions decision even if the option to do so is not listed on their website? The best way to find out if an appeal is allowed is to call the admissions office and inquire with a representative. Be sure to ask whether the school has specific appeal criteria (i.e. what kind of information they will consider and how their particular appeal process works).
How an Appeal Letter Works:
An appeal letter is essentially a fact-based rebuttal of the college's decision to not admit you. In order to be successful, the appeal must convey a logical argument with new and compelling information.
What Kind of "New" Information Matters?
New information is any information that wasn't explicitly stated in your application. It can come from things that happened after you applied as well as things that happened before you submitted your application. The topics you need to address in your appeal are often the same ones you discussed in your application. But, what's new are the details, angles, and context you didn't specifically articulate or explain in your original application. That, in addition to information that is obviously new, is considered new to admissions officers.
What is "Compelling" Information?
Compelling information is new information that shows you are a stronger candidate for admission (i.e. a better fit for the university) than you previously evidenced yourself to be. The leading mistake students make is using more than one sentence to tell a college how badly they want to be admitted. This is not new and compelling information and should not be the focus of your appeal.
Some Colleges Put Limits on the Kind of New and Compelling Information You Can Submit:
Every school defines new and compelling information differently. For example, at CU Boulder (a university you would never know accepts appeals by visiting their website) in order for your application to be reconsidered there must have been a substantial change in your academic work since your decision was issued. However, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA): higher grades, recently acquired awards, or an increase in activities since your decision was issued hold absolutely no weight in the reversal of a decision (and each UC campus (e.g. UCSD, UCSB, and UC Berkeley) has different appeal criteria). To find out what your specific college wants to hear from you, it's always best to call the admissions office and determine which type of information they will base an appeal on.
Many Students Use Language from Appeal Letters They've Found Online — Beware.
The UC Berkeley appeal letter from this Huffington Post article (published 10 years ago) is perhaps the most plagiarized. The "You've Made a Mistake" letter reads beautifully the first time you read it. Every year we run into a student who attempts to plagiarize its same concept and/or words prior to meeting with us. Keep in mind: the same admissions officers across the country have read letters recycling that original letter's famous verbiage year after year. In fact, UC Berkeley, in particular, has long since enacted a 500 word limit to deter verbose appeals like the one in the article. Play to your unique merits—not filler language.
Submitting Your Appeal Earlier Does Not Give You an Advantage:
Rushing to get your appeal in faster is not advised as it will not give you an advantage. Rushed appeals sit in queue while others may get an edge over you by taking the time to submit a better quality letter. The university will not know its yield, and thus how many spots it will have available, until after the students who are choosing to enroll submit in their Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) deposits. That doesn't happen until after the appeal deadline. For freshman applicants, SIRs are due May 1st, on National Decision Day.
What Happens Once You Submit Your Appeal:
The college will review your appeal. Then, they'll review your original application again. Because the information in your appeal precedes the reading of your application, it puts your application into new context. If this new context combined with the original content in your application demonstrates that you are a stronger applicant than you had previously evidenced yourself to be, you'll be successful if spots are available.
Submitting Additional Letters of Recommendation:
Some universities allow additional letters of recommendation to be submitted with an appeal letter. The University of Washington—Seattle and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) are a couple of examples. Back in 2009, when USC openly allowed recommendation letters, one of our students successfully reversed a USC admissions decision with an appeal letter complimented by new recommendation letters.
Avoid recommendation letters that repeat messages that your original recommenders already conveyed about you. The standard of new and compelling information applies here, too. Also, be warned that not all recommendation letters are created equal. Most of the time an additional recommendation will not help your case.
Maintaining academic performance and continuing to stay involved in extracurricular activities is something that is expected of all applicants. Therefore, getting higher grades or increasing your extracurricular involvement after you submit your application will not be a compelling base for your appeal argument. Your appeal will be more effective if you focuses on your strengths elsewhere.
Are You a Wait-Listed Applicant?
Any student who is not admitted to a university can appeal the admissions decision if that university has an appeal process. This includes students who are on the wait-list. Sometimes in addition to submitting a personal message with your wait-list opt-in, the college may also allow you to submit an appeal letter by following that university's appeal process guidelines to boost your chances of being selected for admission.
Did You Apply Early Decision/Action?
Wait to file your appeal until the regular decision applicants hear back for two reasons. By then the university will have a better idea of how many accepted students will actually matriculate (a.k.a. the number of vacant spaces in the entering class). Second, by that time in the school year, you'll have amassed more accomplishments and information that you may be able to use to show that you are a stronger candidate than you were previously evidenced to be.
A Particularly Impressive Win:
We helped a freshman applicant with 3.8 GPA and 29 ACT score reverse his rejection letter from UCLA. Only the bottom 4.64% of admitted applicants had a GPA comparable to his. The average GPA for UCLA's entering class that year was 4.34.
We Can Help You:
A College Zoom counselor can walk you step-by-step through articulating your strongest appeal or waitlist letter. In the first meeting, we’ll analyze your original application with you, live and 1-on-1, to answer your questions and identify deficiencies and missed opportunities. Meanwhile, we'll cross-examine you with deep lines of questioning to uncover new and compelling information together. We'll find specific substantiating details and show you how to articulate them. Often, the better information found is larger in volume than what can fit in your letter. Therefore, once everything is laid out, we'll help you prioritize and package your argument in the most compelling way. This first appeal session is sold as a 1.5-hour meeting (costing $525). However, for students whose major required a portfolio, a 1 hour and 45 minute meeting is necessary to include a review of the portfolio (for a total cost of $612.50). By the end of Meeting #1, you’ll have a finished and detailed outline, so detailed that it'll resemble more of a first draft. By this point, most students who are at least decently strong writers will feel very confident polishing their letter on their own. Struggling writers, or surprisingly, students who are excellent writers yet are prone to overanalyze and get stuck in analysis paralysis, often benefit from a second meeting.
If another meeting to polish is desired, a 1.5 hours is usually appropriate, but the second meeting can vary in length relative to the student's actual need. In this second meeting, our focus is on word-smithing to achieve the maximum impact in the smallest amount of space. For example, we'll aim to help you engineer a statement that contains more detail, and has better flow and potency, than a version 2 to 3 times its length. The focus is on condensing potent arguments with minimal loss of detail, allowing you to squeeze as many wow factors as is effectively possible into your allotted space. Then, we'll polish. When we’re done, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know that you’re submitting the absolute strongest case you can make.
Contact us to find out more about how we can help you. We are committed to keeping your dream alive. Additionally, your appeal letter can be re-used for most other colleges that accept appeals and waitlist letters. It just needs to be adjusted to fit each college's word limit.
"Before we contacted College Zoom, we never fathomed hiring a private college counselor because my daughter had a 3.9 GPA and we believed she'd get in everywhere. After working through the college admissions process on our own, she was rejected by USC, her dream school, and UCLA had said no twice, denying the appeal we wrote on our own before seeking College Zoom's help. Her self esteem was in the toilet and we were desperate."
— Dr. Liane Colsky, daughter admitted to USC with our appeal