Why Colleges Rescind Admissions Offers — And What to Do If It Happens to You

Low grades, disciplinary matters, and other issues can lead to a college admission offer being revoked. Learn how often this happens and what to do if it does.

Sometimes, getting an acceptance letter isn’t the end of a college admissions story.

It’s important that students temper the celebrations that may begin with that thick envelope (or joyous email). Colleges observe their future students until the first day of freshman classes, and reserve the right to revoke an acceptance in certain situations.

In the most recent report on revoked acceptances released by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 21 percent of colleges reported that they had revoked an admission offer, with an average of about 10 rescinded offers per college in 2009.

Why Colleges Revoke Admission

Academic Performance

The most common reason for a college to withdraw an acceptance is due to low grades, which represents 65 percent of all withdrawn offers.

In the 2009 NACAC report mentioned above, public colleges were more likely than private schools to revoke an acceptance based on grades. Of public schools that retracted offers, 84 percent cited failing grades as a reason. Meanwhile, 49 percent of private schools cited academic problems as the reason for revoking offers.

In a different NACAC survey from 2008 researchers found that colleges at nearly all selectivity levels had rescinded admissions offers based on grades. While colleges in the mid-range of selectivity (accepting 50 to 70 percent of students) cited grades as the basis for withdrawing admissions more often than highly selective colleges, the latter withdrew acceptances more frequently overall. 57 percent of colleges that accept fewer than 50 percent of students said they withdrew at least one acceptance.

In terms of how far your grades need to drop for this to happen, it seems to vary by school and student. In an article from U.S. News and World Report, Michelle Hernandez, who formerly worked as the Assistant Director of Admissions Dartmouth College, explained that her office would reach out to students with any Ds or Fs, or a GPA of 2.0 or lower, asking for an explanation. She advises that, in general, colleges want you to maintain the grades you submitted on your application, so a B or two is not going to do you in.

Bev Taylor, founder of The Ivy Coach, explains that “you have to maintain the image of yourself that you presented in your application, whether you had a 4.0 or a 2.5.” She also goes on to say that falling grades aren’t the only way that colleges judge a diminished academic performance. Dropping more rigorous courses in favor of easy ones can also catch a college’s attention. “Changing one class most likely won’t end with a college revoking your acceptance; however, if you were to drop all of your AP courses for joke electives, that’s a different story!”

So, while you may feel that there is less pressure to excel after your acceptance, be careful not to fall prey to senioritis. The colleges that accepted you will reach out to your high school to check in and examine your transcript at the end of the year.

Disciplinary Issues

According to the 2009 NACAC survey, of those colleges that revoked admission, 35 percent did so because of disciplinary issues.

Disciplinary incidents can constitute anything from internal problems at school, such as cheating or truancy, to breaking the law. When asked how likely schools would be to rescind an acceptance for various disciplinary issues, the majority of schools said they would be most likely to penalize prospective students for violence, cheating, drug offenses, and theft. Underage drinking, truancy, and inappropriate web-posting were the least cited reasons of those given.

Both private and highly selective institutions were more likely to rescind applications for disciplinary reasons. For instance, 34 percent of private institutions surveyed said they would revoke admission if a student had been involved in theft, while only 9 percent of public institutions said they would do the same.

Falsified Applications and Other Reasons

Twenty-nine percent of the schools polled by NACAC said they rescinded an application because a student had falsified information on her application. Honesty is very important to colleges, and this kind of breach can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

In previous years, NACAC also reported that students who put down deposits at multiple schools sometimes had their admission rescinded. This is more uncommon and occurred in fewer than 3 percent of cases.

What Happens Next?

If one of the situations described above might apply to you, you will most likely receive a warning letter before a college revokes your admission.

The letter will explain why your case has come to the attention of admissions officers, and will usually ask for an explanation. Here is an example of such a letter sent by Texas Christian University that was re-printed in the New York Times:

Dear Joe:

We recently received your final high school transcript. While your overall academic background continues to demonstrate the potential for success, we are concerned with your performance during the senior year, particularly in calculus. University studies are rigorous and we need to know that you are prepared to meet T.C.U.’s academic challenges. With this in mind, I ask that you submit to me, as soon as possible but no later than July 31, 2012, a written statement detailing the reasons surrounding your senior year performance.

Joe, please understand that your admission to T.C.U. is in jeopardy. If I do not hear from you by the above date, I will assume you are no longer interested in T.C.U. and will begin the process of rescinding your admission.

Please realize that your personal and academic successes are very important to us. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Raymond A. Brown
Dean

If you receive a letter like this, it is critical to contact the admissions officer directly. Make a phone call, or if possible, ask for an in-person appointment. Explain your situation and demonstrate remorse. Raymond Brown, Dean of Admissions at TCU and author of the letter above explains that in most cases, the drop in grades is not due to senioritis. He is quoted in The Harbinger Online: “‘Let’s say we send out 120 of these [letters] each year,’ Brown said. ‘There’s not nearly that many who have senioritis. These are kids who took a course that was just way too tough for them. In the vast majority of cases, it’s not an issue of senioritis, it’s an issue of life getting in the way — something legitimate getting in the way.’”

Whatever the cause of a grade drop may be, Brown explains that these letters aren’t meant to scare students; they are supposed to show applicants that the administration cares about them. Your best bet is to show that you care about attending the college as well, by providing an explanation.

Kennon Dick, a former Senior Admissions Officer for Swarthmore College, Drexel University and Johnson State College, writes: “If the admissions officers feel that a student is being forthright, has learned from his mistake, and isn't likely to repeat it, that student is more likely to be welcomed as a freshman in the fall.”

Less often, students will receive a letter rescinding their admission outright. This is more common when the student was involved in an offense that isn’t grade-related. In this case, it may still be worthwhile to get in touch with the admissions office, depending on the situation. You can try to explain your circumstances, what you’ve learned, and set a plan for how you will do things differently in the future.

If you're struggling with one of your classes senior year, hiring a tutor might be a sensible option. Check out Noodle's tutoring search to look for low-cost help in your area.

What to Do If Your Admissions Offer is Rescinded

If your admission is revoked after the initial warning about grades, or if the college is not open to reinstating you after another offense, you still have a couple options. The rescinded offer is not made public, and you may still have offers from other universities.

If your heart is set on attending this particular college, ask the admissions office if they will consider a transfer the following year. You can attend college at your second or third choice, and then apply again as a transfer student.

Alternatively, you could consider taking a gap year. Many colleges see gap year students as more mature and ready for the rigors of the university, especially if a student can demonstrate that he spent his gap year doing something more meaningful than sitting on the couch watching TV.

The most important thing to remember is that this isn't the end of your collegiate career. Everybody makes mistakes. Colleges, which are in the business of helping young people grow and learn, know this. Face the issue forthrightly, take concrete steps to remedy the situation, and regardless of whether you are eventually readmitted to your first choice college, use this opportunity to learn from a mistake — and, ideally, not repeat it.

Sources:

Dick, K. (2014, February 27). What to Do When Your College Admission May Be Rescinded. Retrieved from Get Into College

Nyhan, S. (2012, February 1). Finishing Strong: Colleges Can Revoke Admissions Offers. Retrieved from NACAC

"Colleges Combat Senioritis With Warning Letters." The Harbinger Online RSS. 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from The Harbinger Online

Paylor, L. (2013, June 18). 5 Ways to Get Your College Admission Rescinded. Retrieved from Huffington Post

University Sends 'Fear of God' Letter to Students With Senioritis. (2012, June 18). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from The New York Times

How Can Students Avoid Losing Their College Admission Offers? (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from U.S. News and World Report

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