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 rescind an admissions offer in certain situations.
In the most recent report on revoked college acceptances, which was released back in 2009 by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 21% of colleges reported that they had revoked an admission offer — with an average of about 10 rescinded offers per college. NACAC has since stopped gathering data on revoked acceptances.
Why Colleges Revoke Admissions Offers
The most common reason for a college to withdraw an acceptance is due to low grades. In fact, this represents 65% of all withdrawn offers in the 2009 NACAC report.
According to NACAC, public colleges are more likely to revoke an acceptance based on grades than are private schools. Of public schools that retracted offers in 2009, 84% cited failing grades as a reason. Meanwhile, 49% 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In a different NACAC survey from 2008, researchers found that colleges at nearly all selectivity levels had rescinded admissions offers based on grades.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% – 70% of students) were most likely to cite grades as the basis for withdrawing admissions, highly selective colleges withdrew acceptances most frequently overall. 57% of colleges that accept fewer than 50% 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, to ask 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 metric that colleges use to judge 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 will examine your transcript at the end of the year.
In the 2009 NACAC survey, 35% of the colleges that revoked admission 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% of private institutions surveyed said they would revoke admission if a student had been involved in theft, while only 9% of public institutions said they would do the same.
Keep in mind that not all disciplinary infractions are judged negatively. After some students faced disciplinary consequences for their participation in the walkouts and protests surrounding the Parkland, Florida school shooting and #NeverAgain movement, many colleges and universities were in the news for issuing reassurances to admitted students. If your disciplinary record has been marred by student activism or another explainable scenario, you’ll just need to be ready to offer a balanced explanation.
Falsified Applications and Other Reasons
29% of the schools polled by NACAC said they rescinded an admissions offer 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 (essentially committing to attend more than one university, and preventing someone else from being accepted off of the waitlist), sometimes had their admissions offers rescinded. This is more uncommon and occurred in fewer than 3% of cases.
What Happens Next?
If any of the situations described above were to apply to you, you would most likely receive a warning letter before being notified that a college had revoked your admission.
The letter would explain why your case had come to the attention of admissions officers, and would 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:
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.
Raymond A. Brown
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.
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 your accepted status 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 schools see a gap year student as more mature and better prepared for the rigors of college, especially if he or she can demonstrate that the gap year was spent 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 — ideally, one that you will not repeat.