[Undergraduate] Admissions Appeals

Created: November 11, 2010
Updated: October 5, 2011

The following post is an old story from 2006; back from senior year in high school. After going through the usual senior-year college admissions rounds, I had been rejected by U.C. Berkeley. Berkeley was my first choice school and it did not have a wait list (although I hear that as of 2010, Berkeley does have a wait list). Yet I somehow went to Berkeley for undergrad. Have I been playing a clever ruse on you all this time? That would make for an entertaining post; but alas, I got into Berkeley through the appeals process (that's right, it actually works). To those who may at some point have to go through this, here is what I can recall about how the system works.

The Berkeley rejection letter is/was a website accessible from the account that you created when you applied. Towards the bottom of the letter, there will be a place where you can read more about appeals. It may have changed since I applied, but it is worth noting/emphasizing that Berkeley made the appeals information public to everyone who had gotten rejected. You don't have to call the admissions office or anything like that to get the appeal off the ground. In other words, appealing a Berkeley admissions decision is a well-established thing to do. Their memorandum as of 2006 was:

We strongly discourage letters of appeal unless you can provide significant new information for us to consider. Our freshman selection process involves a careful, individual reading of each application and it is very unlikely that we will choose to reverse our original decision. If you do have significant new information to present and decide to appeal our admissions decision, please submit your request in writing, postmarked by April 15, 2006. Include your UC application ID number in your letter and submit it with all accompanying materials (i.e. seventh semester grades or a letter of recommendation) in a single envelope.

"Our freshman selection process involves a careful..." blah, blah, blah. This is just war talk in the trenches. If you really want to go to Berkeley, don't let this discourage you from fighting your rejection! You have nothing to lose except lack of effort.

Aside: You might be wondering why Berkeley, or any other school, would want to attract attention to itself through a public appeals process. My guess is that the appeals process is/was Berkeley's wait list, as they did not have a real wait list the year that I applied. Now that they do have a real wait list, I don't know if they will continue with appeals.

The appeal package

What follows is a summary of what you should put in your appeal package. All required parts of the application are marked '[solicited]':

  1. Appeal letter. While the appeals page doesn't specifically ask for this, you should frame your case with some sort of a statement. Mine was done in business letter form. Content included, the letter came out to roughly one page (including the white space that comes with letter recipient address, etc). I don't have an electronic copy of the letter anymore, but will try (future tense...) to find a paper copy and scan it in this post.

  2. Senior year grades [solicited]. Resist senioritis! Berkeley undergrad is very snippy about grades. Since getting in on an appeal is already a fledgling bet, you really can't have bad senior grades mar your case. Keep in mind, these grades correspond to the Fall before you graduate, not the Spring (i.e. when you were in the middle of applying to schools).

  3. A letter of recommendation [solicited]. Here is something interesting. Berkeley doesn't require/accept letters of recommendation in the normal applications process. Thus, if you didn't come out in the U.C. application but really show in recommendation letters, this might be your time to shine. I asked a Professor who I knew from Junior year for a letter of recommendation. This was probably the smartest thing I did in this whole process, as letters from university faculty have the potential to carry much more weight than letters from high school teachers. This letter didn't go out to any other school because the conventional wisdom for letters of recommendation was "high school teachers only." For an appeal, you should bring out the big guns.

  4. Post-application accomplishments. That is, everything besides grades after the November application deadline. Some colleges might call this the 'mid-year report'. For most people, this will be practically zilch. You just finished applying to schools, after all, and are likely exhausted. As it turns out, I was turning the crank from the beginning of senior year right up to when school decisions came back, so I had not one or two but three large bullet points to put here. If you have nothing to do after applying, what's there to lose? ;)

Waiting for a response

After you submit your appeal, the process will take a half month to go through. I got accepted on May 1st; right after I sent in my non-refundable S.I.R. to another school as a matter of fact (somewhere was better than nowhere, after all).

The appeal selection process is last man standing. Picture a bunch of Berkeley appeal candidates nervously chatting on college confidential trying to pass the time. Basically: one candidate after another was rejected; by May 1st, those left standing got accepted. Based on information at hand, this was ~5% of those who appealed.