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Appeals in College Admissions: Everything You Need to Know

As most colleges have now released admissions decisions, I get asked by students on a daily basis about appeals—all different types of appeals. What are the odds? What do I need to do? And when does it need to be done by?

There are multiple types of appeals in college admissions. Here are the five most common ones I get asked about:

1. Admissions Decision Appeal

This is when a student wants to appeal a denial in the hopes that it will be overturned and they will be admitted. Most private colleges will not even entertain this type of appeal. When I worked in the admissions office at an Ivy League university we were instructed to tell anyone who asked that the admissions decision was final. But there are some colleges, mostly large public universities that at least have a documented appeals process. You can find it on their admissions website. For example, University of California Irvine has strict instructions, deadlines, and reasons for when an appeal is considered. The student "must bring to light new academic and personal information, as well as information pertaining to extenuating circumstances that had not been present in the application." UC Irvine's deadline is right around the corner, April 15th. They note that strong senior year grades and new honors/activities received during senior year do not qualify for an appeal.
In my 24-year-career in college admissions and college counseling, I only know of two students who were successful in getting their admissions decision overturned. One student was successful in getting admitted to a private college with a generous acceptance rate. The other student was admitted to a large public university. These cases are rare, though. 

2. Financial Aid Appeal

If a student applied for need based aid and they did not receive as much as expected, none at all, or if their family's financial circumstances have changed, they can appeal. These appeals should go through the college's financial aid office. The family will be asked to provide additional details and forms. The sooner a family submits this information, the more time the financial aid office has to re-evaluate a student's financial aid award. Ideally, you want to be able to get an updated award well before the May 1st enrollment deadline. 
If a student received a better financial aid award from a "true competitor" college, I recommend that the family provide that award to the financial aid office. True competitors have very similar admissions processes, financial aid philosophies, acceptance rates, and institutional characteristics.

3. Merit Scholarship Appeal

For a student who is hoping for more merit money, they should contact their admissions officer or the general admissions office to find out if they can appeal. If they are permitted, the most successful students write a letter providing a strong case for more money. The letter should include updates on the student's academic, extracurricular, and personal achievements. It can also mention any financial considerations that will influence the student's decision. I recommend providing the merit awards from "true competitor" colleges as well. Just like with a financial aid appeal, students need to submit materials as soon as possible in order to give the college time to evaluate the appeal and respond before May 1st.

4. Appeal to Switch Start Date and/or Campus

Students who are admitted for a summer start, spring start, or alternate campus often hope something opens up for them to start in the fall on the main campus. Admissions offices usually will not change the start date or campus, though. The college will need to meet enrollment goals for those alternative start programs and satellite campuses. However, students can contact their admissions officer to find out if this is a possibility. I am already hearing that Northeastern University contacted students in the last week who were admitted to its London campus for the first three years (before attending the Boston campus for the fourth year) to do only one year in London and three years in Boston.  

5. Appeal to Switch Programs

For universities that have multiple undergraduate schools, some students have doubts about the program they applied to and got admitted to. For example, if a student was admitted to the arts and sciences (liberal arts) undergraduate school but has a change of heart and wants to be in the business school, they can inquire first with their admissions officer. Most of the time, the student will be told they must enroll at the program/school they were admitted to, and they can attempt to transfer to another undergraduate school during freshman or sophomore year. In my experience, it is very difficult to transfer into a pre-professional or specialized school at a university. It is easier to move from a university's pre-professional schools to the arts and sciences.

READ MORE: Having a Hard Time Making a College Decision? Do This!

Of all the appeals, I see the most success with merit scholarship increases. Many colleges say they don't "negotiate." When their backs are up against a wall and they are facing the May 1st deadline, they sometimes make adjustments. But successful appeals are still rare. Students should focus on what is guaranteed when making a final enrollment decision. Sometimes the colleges that deliver everything up front are the ones that will value the student much more in the end.