13 Mar

How to Appeal a UC Berkeley Rejection Letter


UC Berkeley appeal letters succeed when they patch the right holes in your original UC application. However, appeal examples found online rarely align with the unique deficiencies that you'll need to address.    


The UC Berkeley Appeal Process:

"You've made a mistake." Every year, well-intentioned UC Berkeley appeal letters borrow these opening words from the "My Successful Letter of Appeal to UC Berkeley" article on the Huffington Post website (a top 3 Google Search result for the query "UC Berkeley appeal").

What many students don't know is that UC Berkeley's application review process has built-in checks and balances. Further, at least two UC Berkeley admissions officers independently read your application and reached the same conclusion on your admissibility. It's highly unlikely that a mistake was made. That's the bad news. But, there's good news!

The rejection of your UC application wasn't a rejection of you, personally, it was a rejection of a certain portrayal that you offered them. Fortunately, the appeal letter is your opportunity to offer UC Berkeley a different portrayal of you. One that can change its opinion.

Why The Huffington Post's "Successful UC Berkeley Appeal Letter" Is No Longer Relevant:

Because the Huffington Post article is so ubiquitous, we should address it first. Mr. Adler's style of appeal letter was successful 15 years ago, but you shouldn't follow a similar strategy for your letter today. Not only must you stand out amid a much more exemplarily qualified applicant pool, but UC Berkeley appeals are now limited to a mere 500 words—only 40% of the space that Mr. Adler had.

The new UC Berkeley appeal guidelines require your appeal to be more direct, powerfully-targeted, and condensed, without losing pound-for-pound impact. You'll need to communicate surgically, unlike Mr. Adler's 1,200+ word appeal letter, which meanders through endearing sentiment, emotions, musings and philosophical beliefs. Such an approach offers little in the type of new and compelling information that today's UC Berkeley appeal guidelines explicitly mandate.

Using lots of exposition for stylistic effect means reaching the 500 word limit before you have the opportunity to articulate compelling, logical arguments that will effectively give UC Berkeley legitimate reasons to change your admissions status. Yes, it may seem easier—a path of least resistance—to simply adapt your favorite parts from Mr. Adler's 15 year old, successful appeal letter into your own 500 word rendition, but you shouldn't. Forget that the UCs already received countless variations of the, “You’ve made a mistake,” letter followed by predictably recycled talking points. Developing your appeal around another’s strategy means you’re not examining the right mix of issues that specifically address the underlying deficiencies in your UC application. 

Sharing the Right Windows Into Your Life:

The big picture: To make the best case for your appeal, it's essential that you reveal new windows into your life to resolve the deficiencies of your original application. Often, it's not one deficiency that led to your rejection but a several deficiencies. For example, there may be multiple academic blemishes, extracurricular under-representations and un-extenuated circumstances.

Prevailing seems like a straight-forward task of patching each hole. However, taking the time to explain everything in chronological order quickly leads to running out of runway.  Most students feel that the limited space of the UC Berkeley appeal means they'll inevitably need to prioritize some issues to the exclusion of others. However, if you invest effort into word-smithing, then you can fit most if not all of your arguments into 500 words without compromising each one's power. Appeals that accomplish this feat are the most powerful because they resolve more issues compellingly.

How Fit at UC Berkeley is Defined:

Now, let's dive deep. In addition to demonstrating satisfactory or better academic performance, UC Berkeley's website states that its admissions readers are focusing on, “leadership ability, character, motivation, insight, tenacity, initiative, originality, intellectual independence, responsibility, maturity, and demonstrated concern for others and for the community.” But, they won't be satisfied if you only pay lip service to these words in your sentences. Each quality is assessed on a scale of magnitude—or more colloquially: for “impact.” However, because 500 words isn't enough space to rewrite your 10-page UC application to show greater impact, you'll need to provide the right contextual details—like missing puzzle pieces—that allows your original application to speak differently to admissions officers.

UC Berkeley and Activism:

A common misconception, especially amongst Californians, is that UC Berkeley intrinsically values activism over other types of extracurricular involvement. Consequently, many students write appeals where they promise to participate in activism at Berkeley if they're admitted, treating "activism" like it's the magic password.

However, associating modern-day UC Berkeley with the political activism that it famously harbored in the 1960s is equivalent to associating UC Berkeley with the 54.6% acceptance rate that it had in 1995. Neither presumption accurately reflects UC Berkeley's admissions criteria or its student body today. "UC Berkeley Liberalism: Then and Now", a DailyCal article from 2016 states:

"UC Berkeley is far more moderate than it was in the ‘60s. The student population’s somewhat reserved attitudes toward social justice contrast strongly with those of the city of Berkeley. Many have begun to feel like there is more inaction now than ever before."

This shift in the student body is a sign of the larger enrollment and increased diversity that has come to define UC Berkeley today. It's not that passion is dead at UC Berkeley—admissions has immense appreciation for students who are the "real deal" in fields that they actually care about.



Imagine Your Arguments Being Made by Another Person:

Many students want to aggrandize themselves in their appeal by citing the other colleges that accepted them. However, think of someone who wants to date you but you have no romantic feelings for that person. If he or she provided a list of other people very willing date him or her, would it change your mind about going on a date? What if he or she gave you an emotional sob story to gain your sympathy? Or, what if this person claimed to be a wealthy trust-fund baby or closely tied to a rich and famous uncle? Are you more open to a romantic future now?

A lot of the ways that students profess their love for UC Berkeley is seen by admissions officers as irrelevant. Admissions officers have expectations: you either fit them or you don't.  The more you address the qualifications they're looking for, the more their interest goes up.

Fawning over UC Berkeley's grandeur, name dropping legacy relatives, sharing sentimental childhood memories of visiting UC Berkeley, philosophizing over the nature of the admissions process, and warmly highlighting personality quirks only steal the spotlight away from your valid qualifications. Yes, they sound nice and proper, but none of this speaks to your individual merit. Successful appeals that include such detours and still succeed are successful in spite of them, not because of them.

So, less stylistic fluff and more targeted substance are the best and safest approaches for UC Berkeley.

The Deadline and Length Limit:

Your UC Berkeley appeal letter must be submitted through your UC Berkeley online portal either before or on April 15th. However, getting your appeal in faster will not give you an advantage. Quality beats speed. The university will not know its yield, and thus how many open spots it will have, until after May 1st for freshmen applicants.

Opting into the waitlist must be done before or on April 15th. Waitlisted applicants, however, cannot appeal. In the past, waitlisted students were allowed to submit a 500 word waitlist opt in letter. This allowed you to provide new and compelling information just like an appeal. However, as of 2023 the ability to add a waitlist statement has been removed. Now, waitlisted UC Berkeley applicants can only opt in with a click and wait for a decision.

We'd Love to Be Your Guide:

A College Zoom counselor can walk you step-by-step through articulating your strongest appeal 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. Having honed our strategies and methods over the past 13 years, 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 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).

After meeting #1, you’ll have a finished and detailed outline, so detailed that it'll resemble more of a first draft. Most students who are at least decently confident writers will feel very confident polishing their letter on their own. Students who are not confident, 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 UC Berkeley 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.

Los Angeles's #1 ranked college counseling service (Yelp). We make college admissions easy and have the best success rate nationwide. Founded in 2009, we have helped over 5,500 students. Smarter decisions, smarter outcomes.™ More.
Skip to content