Are You Waitlisted? Here’s How to Craft an Appeal Letter
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It’s summer and college admissions results are in. The long hours spent with ThinkTank Learning tutors for your Math and English help has paid off. And while your extracurricular activities were not quite where they needed to be at the beginning of the year, the San Jose, Fremont, Palo Alto, San Mateo, Pleasanton, Millbrae, Cupertino, San Ramon, Evergreen, SF-Taraval, or SF-Irving office was there to further develop your profile…but wait!

Your what appears to be Congratulations letter at your first-choice college turns out to be a Dear student, you’ve been waitlisted instead one..

Don’t panic.

Students wait several long months before finding out if their hopes of college glory were affirmed or dashed. This article will outline some advice about how to write a letter of appeal for being waitlisted or for protesting a denial of admission. These guidelines will hopefully make the admissions officers tip the scale in your favor.   

The Don’ts
Don’t Sound as If the Admissions Officer Was Less Than Optimal or Made a Mistake

As disappointed as you may feel about their decision to waitlist you instead of play your theme song, don’t write as if they were half-asleep right when they considered your application. Admissions officers are professionals with college and graduate degrees, not to mention certificates about the college admissions process. They are tasked with assessing whether or not large volumes of applicants meet certain academic standards before having to fulfill diversity quotas (majors, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, etc.). Making them feel as if they were not smart enough to realize your greatness will have the opposite effect that you are seeking.

Don’t Tell Them What They Already Know

Private schools have seen main essays, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, and even the grades from the first semester of your senior year. If you don’t have any new achievement to report to them, then you’re wasting their time by writing another letter. Did you win another award? Did your signature project gain local, state, or national acclaim? Did you co-author a book or research paper that deserves reckoning? These are the sorts of things that you want to report.

The Do’s
Do Express Humility Instead of Disbelief or Indignation

It’s hard for people to connect with someone’s arrogance. Contrarily, it’s easy for people to connect with someone’s humility. Whatever you write, it will help you if you state that you understand and agree with the merit of their metrics, even if you really think that standardized tests don’t measure much regarding future success. Give them the benefit of the doubt. There is no perfect metric for assessing hundreds of thousands of applications within the time span of a few months. Every admissions office is aware that there are imperfections in a system that requires expediency, which is a different matter than there being incompetency in those offices.

Do Express That This School is Your Main Choice

You should write as if this school is your main choice and that your future will never be the same apart from it. The admissions officers are aware that you will say this to every school at which you are appealing. They do this every year. And, it’s not as if they never talk to the students who get into the school. Find a way to express that this school is your last hope. Make them feel as if the extra effort that you are forcing them to squeeze out at the tail end of a busy season – that just won’t seem to end – will actually be meaningful in some way.

Extra Tidbits
Don’t Become a Person Who Can’t Move Forward Because of Incessant Blaming of the Past

Disappointment is normal, especially when greatness and excellence is the goal. However, disappointment doesn’t have to be the end of your journey in life.  Disappointment is actually a huge growth point and when one door closes another one opens.

Smart, successful, happy people graduate from every college and university out there. They learn to appreciate their opportunities wherever they are. They look towards building their future, instead of wallowing in the ruins of their past. I know people who attended UC Berkeley as their second or third choice, but who kept singing the same song of sorrow about not getting in elsewhere. They were too busy blaming their past to pursue their future. They focused on what they couldn’t do, instead of what they could learn to do and how they could grow into someone strong enough to do it.

Do Remember that College is Just the Next Step in Your Journey

One thing that high school students don’t realize is that people get more intelligent over time, even though the structure of high school curriculums makes them feel otherwise. Going to a brand name college does not ensure future success in the workplace or in graduate school. You will need more than just a good GPA and test scores to be successful in life, however you measure success: money, prestige, power, influence, happiness, joy, peace of mind, meaningful work, and/or comfort.

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By David H. Nguyen, Ph.D.