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Articles / When and Why Do Colleges Rescind Acceptances? Your Questions Answered

May 14, 2021

When and Why Do Colleges Rescind Acceptances? Your Questions Answered

When and Why Do Colleges Rescind Acceptances? Your Questions Answered

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Spring has sprung, so, too, have the worries of admitted students who succumbed to senioritis (and other questionable behaviors) after the ink was dry on their acceptance letters.

In fact, The Dean has received so many queries over the years from those who stay awake at night wondering if their acceptances are about to vaporize that we will attempt to address many of these at once.

Do colleges really take back offers of admission?

Colleges do not like to renege on admission decisions but will do so on occasion. This most typically happens when a student's grades drop significantly after the student is admitted. In other words, if an A student suffers a bout of senioritis and drops to a B average, it's not a deal-breaker. But if grades plummet to C's and D's (or worse), it can be. If there are extenuating circumstances behind this change in GPA (e.g., an illness or family crisis), they should be explained by the school counselor. The college will probably be sympathetic and stand by their original acceptance, sometimes putting the student on academic probation when the school year starts.

Colleges may also revoke acceptances if the student is suspended from school or arrested outside of school. Again, because the college does not want to do this, the case will be carefully evaluated and the verdict will most likely depend on the nature of the infraction and the circumstances surrounding it.

Finally, if a college should discover that an applicant was dishonest on his or her application, that is likely to lead to a rescinded admission, too.

If a college plans to revoke your acceptance, especially for academic reasons, you should be proactive about making a deal to save it. For instance, you can offer to take a summer class (or several) and let your fate rest upon meeting a specified minimum grade. You can also suggest that you start your first college term on academic probation. (The college may insist on this anyway, even if you don't offer!)

Finally, for those students who are writing with worries about declining grades, note that the college you plan to attend won't see your transcript until the school year is over. So you may still have time to reverse the downward spiral. Even a "D" or an "F" on your third-quarter report card won't make a big impact if you've managed to pull it up to more respectable turf by the end of the semester.

So, as my Nana used to say, "A stitch in time saves nine." Although the thought of Nana sewing anything is laughable, her advice was still sound.

A version of this Ask the Dean originally appeared in April 2010. The following is a look back at questions the Dean has received over the years.

More questions about colleges rescinding offers? Have some experience or advice to share? Join the conversation on the College Confidential forums.

Is My Acceptance About to Get Rescinded Because My Grades Dropped?

I am buying things for my dorm and getting ready to move in, but I just got a letter from the college I'll be attending asking me to explain the reasons my grades were so much lower senior year. I don't have a good reason, I was just burned out. There is a chance the college may pull my acceptance. What should I do?

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From the Dean:

College officials really don't want to rescind acceptances, especially at this late date. Just as you're making plans for move-in and purchases for your dorm room, they, too, are finalizing details and databases and don't welcome the disruption that losing an enrolled student would provide.

In a perfect world, however, you would have written to the college folks right when high school ended (or even sooner) to warn them of your drop in grades and to show that you were aware of this issue and that you cared about it. Ideally, too, you would have been able to offer a reason for your downturn such as a protracted illness, a death in the family, problems on the home front, etc. But now, the best you can do is to write back immediately and grovel to retain your acceptance. If you can't cite any of the aforementioned excuses, then at least be very apologetic and explain just what you've said here ... that you were burned out. Offer assurances that this summer has given you time to recharge your battery and that you're eager to return to the classroom. Add specific examples if you can (e.g., "Working at a camp for children with autism has fueled my interest in a career in special education" or "After two months of flipping burgers, late nights with a chemistry text actually sound exciting!")

You can also put a deal on the table by saying something like this: "I want you to have faith in my intention to be successful at college. If you allow me to matriculate this fall, I can meet weekly with my advisor (or a dean) to prove that I'm staying on track."

You didn't say just how badly you stumbled. When you say that your grades were "so much lower" senior year, did you slip from a 3.9 GPA to a 3.0 GPA or to a 2.0? If the slide was really severe, the college may decide to make an example of you and revoke your admission. But if you managed some good grades along with the lousy ones, you'll probably be okay. In any case, you need to respond now and do your best to convince admission officials that you're ready to buckle down.

On the other hand, maybe you're NOT all that ready. If you're still feeling burned out, ask instead if you can defer your acceptance for a year. Many students find that a gap year is a great way to take a break from the demands of school and to then return with renewed enthusiasm. So perhaps the letter you just received is a blessing in disguise, and you should take time off from academia. If you do, the items you've already bought for your dorm room will be waiting when you finally need them.

This Ask the Dean post originally appeared in July 2019

Will a "C" Mean a Rescinded Acceptance?

I applied to college with no grade lower than an A-. But now I'm worried that I may get a "C" in AP Calculus. Will my acceptances be rescinded, if I do? All my other grades are A's.

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From the Dean:

Colleges will not rescind for a single "C" (although a "D" can be a different story). Students who are REALLY in trouble (i.e., those with multiple C's or worse) should write to the colleges that admitted them (or to just the one they plan to attend) to "explain" atypically low grades. Although, in your case, this isn't necessary, it may make you feel better if you have a valid excuse for the downturn. Such reasons might include an illness that led to getting behind (and lost) in class, a death in the family, other stress at home, etc. However, colleges don't like to hear that you got busy with your extracurricular activities … even when that's the truth. So if you don't have a "good" reason for your grade drop, there's no need to say anything at all.

Meanwhile, it's not too late to pull up that Calc grade or, at the very least, to make sure that it doesn't dip any lower. If it does, you really could be in hot water.

Good luck!

A version of this Ask the Dean originally appeared in March 2017

Will Colleges Rescind Acceptances for Quarter Grades?

I have always been a good student, A's and B's. However during my senior year a couple of my AP classes got tough. During first quarter they were fine and I got acceptances into several universities. But for second quarter the two classes have dropped down to D's. One is AB Calc and the other is Stats. I'm wondering if colleges will rescind my acceptances based on quarter grades. I have a tutor and I'm working to pull up my grades but I am still worried that they might rescind anyway. These colleges are not Ivy League schools and I got a semester grade last year of a D for pre-Calc and they still accepted me. Should I contact them about it or will they only look at semester grades which should be fine. My gpa is about a 4.27/5.3.

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From the Dean:

Colleges will not rescind acceptances based on quarter grades. Keep plugging away and working with your tutor and, hopefully, your D's will become C's (or better). It's possible that your colleges could rescind if you end the year with D's in two classes as final grades. But in the unlikely event that this happens, you can appeal the decision by providing documentation from your tutor and your teachers showing that you did try hard and weren't just suffering from "Senioritis." In addition, because you already had a "D" on your record BEFORE you were admitted, the college folks shouldn't be shocked to see yet another D on your report card … as long as it's not two of them! It isn't necessary to contact the colleges at this point, but if it would make you feel better to do so, you can certainly send an email that explains to them what you've already told "The Dean."

A version of this Ask the Dean originally appeared in January 2015

Will My Scholarship to a D3 School Be Revoked If I Stop Playing Sports?

Can a Division 3 college take back any scholarship given to a freshman to play sports if he or she doesn't make the team sophomore year?

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From the Dean:

Division 3 colleges do not offer athletic scholarships at all. So any money awarded to a Div. 3 athlete would be based on financial need, academic talent or other (non-athletic) abilities. Thus, if the student is cut from the team (or simply decides not to participate) there would be no impact on the scholarship.

Note, however, that sometimes Div. 3 colleges do a scholarship "end run" for athletes. That is, if a student is a recruited athlete, the school is not allowed to offer money for sports. But the school IS allowed to offer the student merit money that is labeled as being for other purposes. The school can also "sweeten the pot" by providing a need-based financial aid "package" that includes less loan and more grant (the good stuff that need not be repaid) than a non-athlete might receive. But, again, if the athlete doesn't continue in his or her sport--for whatever reasons--the school cannot rescind the scholarship because of this.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in August 2008

Will a Low AP Bio Grade Mean Rescinded Acceptance?

I recently was accepted to my top school for nursing. I even received a scholarship. However I recently found out that I failed my AP Bio midterm. I talked to my teacher and she told me i was still passing this semester. I talked to my guidance counselor and she said they don't receive our actual midterm test grades, they just receive mid year GPA and grades in subjects. This means they see that I passed AP bio and they see whatever average I have in it.

My overall average has increased since Junior year. I'm just worried that if I have a lower grade in AP Bio, for example a C or a D, would that result in me getting declined? My other grades are high, and at the time of acceptance they did not know I was challenging myself with AP Bio.

Is there still a chance they will decline me? They know AP Bio is a hard course, and I am still passing. Also my overall GPA has increased since Junior year.

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From the Dean:

As your guidance counselor correctly explained, the AP Bio exam is not a deal-breaker. Colleges are focused on course grades, not on exam grades. However, you said that you have "passed" AP Bio but you don't say the actual grade you received. Did you "pass" with a C or above or with a D? Colleges are not happy with D's, and it's possible that a final course grade of a D could be a problem for you. A C (or even C-), however, should not be.

Is the AP Bio class over now or are you just halfway through? If it's the latter, make every effort to earn a C or above for your final grade. I see that you already talked to your teacher about your grade, which was smart. Keep those lines of communication open ... go for extra help if offered and ask your teacher about extra-credit options if you fear that your course grade is sliding down to D territory. Another option would be to seek out either a free peer tutor (some schools offer this) or a paid adult tutor.

Although your college probably won't automatically rescind your acceptance—and your scholarship—if you earn a D, you may have a fight ahead of you. And if you do end up with a D in the class despite your best efforts, you'll want to be able to "document" everything you did to try to stay afloat ... i.e., meeting with the teacher, going for extra help, getting tutoring. Also point out to your college that your overall GPA has gone up. If the college folks see that you weren't slacking, it will definitely work in your favor. However, because the course you're struggling in is AP Bio and your intended major is nursing, a D in that class is bound to raise concerns. So do the best you can to finish the year with a C or above. Do you think that you can?

A version of this Ask the Dean originally appeared in December 2017

Will Summer School "F" Mean Rescinded Transfer Acceptance?

My son has already received acceptance from a few schools but seems to have dropped the ball in 2 of the 3 AP classes he has signed up for in the senior year (a D in one and F in another) . His GPA prior to commencing senior year was ~ 3.2. No extenuating circumstances to explain the drop. He just seems to have been over confident and slipped up. This has never happened in the past.

Question is: if the accepting school asks for a mid year transcript, should we send a letter of explanation (admitting what happened and indicating how he plans to catch up) along with the official transcript or are we better off waiting till year end and/or till being asked for an explanation - with the hope that his grades will improve in the interim. He is definitely clocking in more time now to catch up. Also, will this lead to his acceptance being rescinded? Thanks for your feedback!

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From the Dean:

If any college requests mid-year grades from your son, then he MUST send an explanatory letter. Although there may be no compelling excuse for his downturn (e.g., no divorce or drug abuse at home, no death in the family ...), he can always say that he put too much time into his extracurricular activities or got carried away with a wholesome hobby like reading or coding or chess (he shouldn't say video games!). He should also insist that he learned a valuable less about time-management and insist that his FINAL grades will prove it. Then, of course, his final grades need to be much better!

If the colleges that already accepted your son do not request mid-term grades directly from him (and they probably won't), you should find out if his school guidance counselor been asked to send these grades. And if there are applications still pending at colleges that don't send out their decisions until the spring, then it is highly likely that they WILL ask the counselor for a mid-year report. Moreover, some counselors routinely send mid-year reports to ALL colleges on a student's list, whether requested or not. So, if you haven't done so already, you need to talk to the counselor to find out which—if any—of your son's target colleges will receive mid-year grades.

As noted above, any college that receives your son's mid-year report (whether he's been accepted already or not) should get a very apologetic letter from your son.

A D or an F as a mid-term grade is not likely to lead to an acceptance being rescinded now, but it can definitely lead to a rescinded acceptance over the summer if the student's FINAL transcript doesn't show major improvement. So your son would be wise to not only put his nose to the grindstone to bring up those bad grades but also he should schedule a meeting with his teachers to tell them that he is serious about improving and to ask for their suggestions on what he should be doing. He doesn't want those teachers to judge him on his first-semester performance. He needs them to give him the benefit of the doubt in the coming semester. So if they know that he is committed to making a turnaround, and if he doesn't just say it in an initial meeting with them but also shows it in his work, then they probably WILL give him that benefit of the doubt and not just write him off as a slacker. (If any of these teachers offer "extra help" sessions, your son should go, even if he feels that he's back on track and can get by without them. His attendance will send a clear message that he is buckling down.)

As a parent myself, I'm sure that this is a stressful situation for you, but if your son is also frightened by his first-term performance, it sounds like he will make the required changes in the spring semester.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in August 2010

Will a "D" in AP Stats Get Me Rescinded From Rice?

I've been admitted to Rice University for ED last December to the Wiess School and was jumping up and down. During my first semester before I got admitted, I had a B+ in AP Statistics after struggling my first test by getting a 70 and then getting 100's all my other tests. I ended on a borderline B+/A- because I screwed up my last test with a 79 and ended up with a 88.9

This semester, our third quarter has ended and we have one more quarter left with 3 tests and a project left. I literally screwed up my first test with a 60 and am standing at an overall of 65 which is a D. I guess I know I can raise my grade, but what if I don't? Would I get rescinded? All my other grades are A's and B's, which are all similar with my semester 1 grades.

I'm really worried. I've worked so hard all my high school career, and my parents have put in so much for me to succeed. I'm scared one test I decided to slack off because I was sick with the flu at the time might mess my entire life up and am losing sleep. Please anybody with experience/information help me out. Even writing about this right now is getting me dizzy. The school website doesn't seem to give much information regarding rescind policies.

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From the Dean:

Colleges do sometimes rescind acceptances when they spot a "D" on the final transcript. But these decisions are commonly made on a case-by-case basis, and thus students who can prove that they haven't been slacking are more likely to keep their spots in the incoming freshman class than those who clearly seem to be suffering from "Senioritis."

Rescinded acceptances are based on FINAL course grades, not on quarter or semester grades. So if you currently have an overall "D" in AP Stats but you had stronger grades earlier in the year, then a decent showing in your last quarter should pull your final grade up to at least "C" territory, right? And once you're there, you should be okay.

Meanwhile, here's what you need to do to minimize the chances that your college with rescind their offer:

  • Tell your teacher that you very much want to get back on track and ask what he or she suggests (after-school help? tutoring? online assistance?) then follow this advice.
  • If you opt for the tutoring or online assistance, report in to your teacher weekly with updates on how it's going. If he or she does routinely offer extra-help sessions, be sure to show up even if it means missing other activities. If you still end up with that "D," you may need to ask your teacher to write to Rice on your behalf and attest to the fact that you were trying to do better.
  • Ask your teacher if there are any extra-credit assignments you can do. Even if the answer is "No," this again will show your teacher that you aren't taking your downturn lightly.
  • Sit in the front of the room during AP Stats class (if your seats aren't assigned) and away from distracting friends. (If your assigned seat is near distracting friends, asked to be moved!) Make an effort to participate in class discussions regularly. Not only will this help to keep you focused and engaged in class but also, if your teacher adds "Class Participation" to your grade, a few extra points could bump you up to safer turf.
  • Keep a record of all of your efforts ... e.g., a log of the times you went to after-school help sessions or you used a tutor or website.

If you don't pull up your grade beyond a D (which I bet you will), you should send Rice a detailed list of all of the measures you took to try to boost your grade, also noting that you came down with the flu at a critical time and it set you back on a key test and left you unable to regain your footing.

However, I feel that if you make this a priority, you will be able to get that footing back, although it may mean working briefly with a tutor. You might feel as if you are already so busy that you can't add another item to your to-do list. However, with college applications behind you, you should be able to find some time, even if it means cutting back on your social (or social media!) life.

Good luck! Let us know how you fared ... both in your AP Stats class and with Rice.

A version of this Ask the Dean appeared in March 2018

Should I Tell My Top-Choice College About a Likely "D" this Semester?

I have straight A's in high school and got an almost perfect SAT score -- I just applied ED to Duke. I am also applying to a few other high-level schools. When they get my transcript, it will only show my grades from the past three years, but right now I am getting a "D" in AP Chemistry and I don't know if it will come up much before December, which is when the grade is finalized. So my question is, do I need to tell Duke and the other schools that I'm getting a "D" this semester? Or do they generally only care about grades from the first three years of high school?

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From the Dean:

While the grapevine may claim that eleventh grade is the one that really "counts" at admission-decision time, the truth is that senior year — especially the first semester — is equally important. And sooner or later, college officials will see that dreaded "D" in AP Chem and they won't be happy about it. So how should you handle this?

Presumably, since you're applying Early Decision to Duke, your transcript has been shipped off without the AP Chem grade (or any of the others from this term) on it. And it's possible that your Duke verdict will be issued on the basis of your first three years' performance, just as you've suggested. But it's also possible that, in the throes of evaluating your candidacy, a Duke official will contact your guidance counselor to ask for your most recent grades, so your AP Chem grade might affect your Duke ED outcome.

So your first step should be to have a conversation with your counselor, in case this request comes in. Your counselor can do a little damage control for you if you can tell him or her why you're struggling in chem and what you're doing to improve. You may be able to save yourself if you can report to your counselor that you've been seeking extra help from your teacher after school, working with a peer or professional tutor, using internet resources to try to stay afloat, etc.

If you've taken other tough sciences in the past (e.g., AP Physics and AP Bio) and done well, but somehow chemistry is a field you just don't "get," admission committees may cut you a break and overlook your "D," especially if the rest of your academic record is outstanding and includes exceptional accomplishments outside of the classroom as well. But if the other sciences on your transcript are the ones that the colleges consider a bit "fluffy" (e.g., environmental, forensics), then a low grade in AP Chem could turn out to be a deal-breaker for you at the hyper-competitive places like Duke.

Do you have to tell Duke right now that you're floundering in AP Chem? No you don't. But if you are accepted Early at Duke on the basis of your grades so far in high school, and the admission committee later learns of your "D" (which they will), then your acceptance might be rescinded. So if you get into Duke in the ED round, you should know by then if you're going to end up with a "D" in the chem class. If you are, you need to tell your Duke regional rep right away and ask if you will lose your spot in the freshman class. You should have other applications all ready to send, if it looks likely that Duke will rescind your offer. (If, with the holidays looming, you can't get any info from Duke about the impact of your "D" in December, you should go ahead and apply to colleges with January deadlines but then withdraw those applications the minute you hear back from Duke, if you're told that your acceptance will stand.)

The smartest plan, however, is to do whatever it takes to get that chemistry grade up to a "C" before Christmas. It's highly unlikely that admission officials will rescind an acceptance for one "C," but they might for a "D." Talk to your AP Chemistry teacher immediately and ask what steps you can take to boost your average. If you're not already attending extra-help sessions or getting tutoring, do both. Ask about extra-credit projects, too. If you end up with that "D" (or even with a "C"), you will want to provide admission officials with a list of the measures you took to do better. You don't want them to assume you were slacking.

All of your colleges will receive a mid-year report from your guidance counselor that will include your first-semester grades. So by the end of January, the cat will be out of the bag. Thus, if you do get a "D" in December and if you're not accepted ED to Duke, you should be proactive and contact all of your target colleges to warn them about the low grade and explain the efforts you made to do better.

"The Dean" could advise you more effectively if you'd said why you're doing so poorly in AP Chem after such a stellar track record throughout high school as well as high test scores. So you need to discuss your reasons for this downturn with your guidance counselor today so that he or she will be fully prepared to lobby on your behalf when admission officials call or email to ask about you. If your counselor can convince the admission folks that, while you may not be the next Louis Pasteur or Marie Curie, you're definitely not suffering from senioritis either, your single low grade may not hurt you at all.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in October 2018

Why Was My Granddaughter's Admission Verdict Reversed?

My granddaughter was recently accepted for admission to UCSC as a freshman, but approximately 45 days or so after acceptance, she received an e-mail that her application/acceptance was to be reviewed. The end result: admission denied. Preparing to attend UCSC, she made no efforts to attend another school. My question is why the review and reversal of the original acceptance? To the best of my knowledge, "Diana" has had one D (in trig) on her report card during high school resulting in a GPA drop to 3.47.

Diana has no vision in one eye and limited vision in the other. She suffered a serious setback related to her condition that resulted in major surgery and five weeks of missed classes. In spite of these absences, she managed to keep her GPA very close to 4.0 but she did miss out on the fundamental concepts of trig. Is there anyone I can appeal to regarding this situation?

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From the Dean:

I understand your concern, and I assume that Diana also has no clue why her acceptance was reversed. Have you discussed this thoroughly with her? If so, are you convinced that she has been completely forthcoming with you?

In trying to hunt for explanations, I found that I was not clear on your timeline. In particular, did Diana receive her D in trig AFTER being accepted to UCSC? If so, that MIGHT explain the change of heart, especially if the university admissions office was not given any explanation of Diana's medical problems. You should also ask Diana if she had any other poor grades in her senior year.

I'm not sure what ELSE might account for the change of heart. Could Diana have been involved in some sort of disciplinary action, suspension, etc. that she wouldn't want to reveal to you? If that seems unlikely, then one other possibility I can think of is that the UC system "spot checks" applications to make sure that extracurricular activities, test scores, etc., have been reported honestly and accurately. So MAYBE an irregularity turned up if Diana's application was randomly selected for such a check.

Most commonly, however, when admission decisions are revoked, it is due to sliding grades in the final term of senior year or some sort of serious disciplinary action or suspension.

However, rather than speculating, I would suggest that you have Diana contact the office of admission at UCSC and ask for an explanation. Frankly, I'm surprised that she hasn't done so already. You can certainly do so yourself, but you may find that the school will not give out confidential information to anyone but the applicant herself and perhaps a parent. (If you are Diana's guardian, then you should tell them that right from the start.) Even if the admission official you contact will not give the SPECIFIC reason for rescinding Diana's acceptance, MAYBE you can at least flesh out a general reason (e.g., academic, disciplinary, etc.)

Let me know what you discover and perhaps I can then assist you with finding other options for Diana.

Good luck to you.

A version of this Ask the Dean originally appeared in June 2007

How Will Suspension for Drinking on School Trip Affect Accepted Student?

My son has already been accepted to his college of choice. However, very recently on a school trip, he and 11 others were nailed for alcohol use and consequently suspended for three days. In his particular case, he admits to drinking a little, but then distanced himself from the situation. Must his high school report this? Will his college withdraw the acceptance? Thank you. We are agonizing about this.

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From the Dean:

It seems that I have answered this question many times over ... especially this spring. I don't know if there's a new epidemic of teenage misbehavior in progress or if there are simply more crackdowns than there used to be.

So, if it gives you any consolation, you are not alone. And perhaps the very epidemic nature of these infractions could work in your favor because colleges must be accustomed to them by now and certainly don't want to rescind multiple offers of admission this month.

Unfortunately, however, all I can tell you at this point is that you need to speak to your son's school officials to ask them how they will handle the situation. Although such suspensions are usually reported on the final school transcript, which your son's college will receive, not all high schools choose to disclose disciplinary actions, even though the colleges do expect to receive such information. And some high schools will report it immediately .... not waiting for the end-of-year transcript.

So, first, you have to talk to your son's guidance counselor or principal (or whatever other administrator is the point person here) and ask if this will be disclosed to colleges. If the answer is yes, then you should also ask for specifics. Will the high school report say something like, "This is a good kid who got caught up in the excitement of a school trip and used poor judgment for the first time we've ever seen him do so," or will it be more like, "These students were told clearly that we have a zero-tolerance policy, which they flagrantly chose to ignore. Then they lied to cover-up their violation."

The spin that the school puts on the report could have an impact on how the college decides to proceed. Moreover, some colleges are more liberal when it comes to these sorts of things than others. So the outcome depends not only on the high school's reporting policy--which varies from school to school--but also on the college's policy, which also varies.

I imagine it's tempting to not talk to school officials about how--or if--they will report this to colleges, for fear that you may be "reminding" them to do so. But, trust me, that won't be the case. And, should you stick your head in the sand, then your son won't take the next important step.

If the school is reporting the suspension, your son must write a letter to the college explaining what he did. His letter should be contrite, accepting blame for his actions--not shifting it to classmates--and it should emphasize what he learned from the episode. He should also emphasize that he isn't a habitual user of alcohol (if this is indeed true. If not, then he should seek help for a problem that will only get worse in college if it exists already). If his record is clean until now and if his apology is convincing, he may be off the hook, but it really depends on the college in question.

I do empathize with your agony. The only silver lining is that it could be worse. Most colleges put senior drinking under the "Youthful Foibles" rubric (especially when a large group was involved, as happened here) while other offenses (e.g., cheating, bullying) cast aspersion on the applicant's character and are usually treated more harshly.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in May 2010

My Grades Are Awful ...Can I Save My College Acceptance?

I am a high school senior and I have been accepted to my first-choice college. However, I've had a series of problems this fall, along with senioritis, and my first-semester grades were all D's. Is there anything that I can do to salvage my acceptance or will it be revoked for sure?

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From the Dean:

Yikes! You have gotten yourself in some hot water and are correct in assuming that you are in grave danger of losing your place at the college you plan to attend. With a very poor semester like that, you may be beyond damage control, but here's what I suggest you do right away:

  1. Talk to your guidance counselor to verify that your first-semester grades will be sent to the college you plan to attend. This is most likely the case, but occasionally a college will expect only your final grades, not a mid-year report. If it's the latter, you might be able to pull up your average and save yourself before you get bounced. You don't say what your usual GPA is nor do you name the college you plan to attend. If you are ordinarily an "A" student and have been admitted to a college that is highly selective, then obviously the water is far hotter than if you are usually a "C" student. Also ask your counselor if he or she has dealt with this situation in the past. If so, what approach was taken? What was the outcome? Ask your counselor, too, where you can apply now, despite your disastrous semester.
  2. Talk to all your teachers and see if there is any work you can do to raise your grades and have them officially changed on your record. This is unlikely, but it's worth a shot and may help with the next suggestion, below ...
  3. Telephone the admission office at the college you plan to attend and explain the situation to the admission staff member who oversees applicants from you high school. Don't expect a lot of forgiveness for the "senioritis," but do explain the "problems" you mentioned. Some problems (a death in the family, illness, divorce, etc.) are likely to evoke more sympathy than others ("I've had a lot of car trouble"). But, whatever the issue, you may find a sympathetic ear. When you make this call, be pro-active. First, tell the admission officer that you are working with your teachers to raise your grades (if, indeed, this is an option). In addition, prepare some "punishments" that you can live with but which fall short of a rescinded acceptance. For instance, you could promise to earn a certain GPA in the next semester (one that is as least as good--or better--than your cumulative GPA up to 12th grade). You could also propose that you will start college next fall "on probation," with the expectation that you must meet a predetermined GPA in your first term. You might suggest, too, that you will take some college classes over the summer to prove that you are ready to buckle down in the fall.

You do seem to realize that you have messed up, but your willingness to make amends and the attitude you exhibit as you do so might keep you from losing your place at your college. Certainly it's worth fighting for.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in January 2018

Can My Son Drop AP Class AFTER Receiving College Acceptances?

I'm mom to a HS senior who has been accepted at several liberal arts colleges (not the most competitive ones but still selective). He would like to drop his A.P. US History course for a lower level course for the final two months of the school year. He has a major conflict with the history teacher and I fear there is nothing we can do to fix it, and he will end up with a really poor grade if we don't allow him to move down a level. Do you recommend that we notify the colleges where he was accepted? Thanks in advance: I really appreciate your availability and the wisdom you have shared with us at CC.

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From the Dean:

College admission officers can be persnickety when kids drop an AP or honors class to take a less rigorous one. And they will find out when they receive your son's final School Report in June or July. (In fact, any change in schedule post-application should always be shared with colleges.) If your son explains his situation, the college folks may say, "Fine. Go for it!" but "The Dean's" advice would be for him to ask first rather than to bail on the AP class and then tell the colleges after the fact.

If your son already knows where he plans to enroll, he can start with that school first. He should send his request in writing via email to his regional rep (the admission staff member who oversees applicants from this high school) but he should also copy the main admission office email address.

If your son feels there is a specific reason for the conflict with the teacher (the teacher is racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-jock, despised his older sister, etc.) then he should explain this in the email. He can also mention that he fears a poor grade if he stays in the class, even if he works hard. But the real emphasis of his note should be that he is miserable and stressed facing this teacher every day and that the class is destroying his interest in history.

Of all the colleges that accepted your son, it's highly unlikely that every single one of them would rescind his acceptance if he were to drop the AP US History class ... and perhaps none of them would. But, even so, if it were my child, I'd make sure he got the verdict in writing before making a move.

How Do I Handle My Daughter's Felony Arrest After College Acceptances?

My daughter has applied to four colleges and already heard back from one of them (she got accepted to that one). Last week, she got caught with a drug (LSD) on her and was arrested. She won't have her court date for over a month, but this would be a felony if she is convicted. We aren't sure at this point whether we would still allow her to attend a college where she can't live at home, but that's probably irrelevant to my question: Should we tell all of the colleges about this now, or just the one that accepted her, or none of them? Or do we wait until we find out what happens at court? Or do we do nothing?

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From the Dean:

I'm so sorry to hear about your difficult situation. Parenting a child through the college admission process (not to mention parenting period) is tough enough without this added heartbreak. And, as you've already implied, you really must address two separate -- but related -- issues here:

  1. How and when to inform colleges of your daughter's arrest.
  2. How to deal with your daughter going forward and the amount of freedom you feel comfortable allotting her.

If this were my daughter, I would recommend that she wait until after her court date to inform her colleges of this incident. Ideally, when she does eventually report her arrest, she will be able to temper the bad news by saying that her case was continued without a finding or that her record will be expunged after a period of good behavior. Once she learns her fate, I would have her email her regional admissions reps at all of the colleges to which she's applied to explain the circumstances of her arrest, her punishment and what she's learned from the episode. If her involvement with drugs has been minimal, she should be sure to say so (although whether she sounds credible will be anyone's guess). If she has sworn to give up all illegal drug use from now on, she should insist on that as well (although, again, her sincerity may be in doubt).

The only drawback to waiting until after the court date to notify colleges is that, should the response be bad (i.e., the school that accepted your daughter revokes the acceptance or the remaining colleges deny her) then your daughter will have limited time to add other choices to her list. There will still be places that admit her, despite her record, but she may end up with options that are far less selective than the schools on her current docket. It also might be wise for her to attend a local college or to take a gap year. (More on this below.) If your daughter prefers to contact the colleges immediately, that's understandable, and she should.

How the college folks will react is hard to predict. Conservative colleges may rescind an acceptance or deny admission. Even at more left-leaning schools, there will be an element of luck involved, and the outcomes may depend upon the desk where your daughter's file lands. Her explanatory letter should state emphatically that she will not be bringing drugs — or a drug problem — to campus. Some admission officials will forgive her youthful foibles; others may not. Some admission officials may worry less about an LSD arrest than they might about opioids, cocaine and other very addictive drugs, (especially if your daughter can make a convincing argument that she's given up all drugs). But even liberal admission officials may fear that a teenager caught with LSD is not brand-new to the drug scene, and they will question the safety of welcoming such a student to campus.

In the weeks or months ahead, if your daughter applies to additional colleges with a disciplinary-action question on the application, she will have to carefully read the wording. If the question asks about any "arrests," she must say "Yes." If asked only about a "Conviction," she can respond according to the outcome in court.

However, because your daughter submitted her applications before her arrest and was presumably able to honestly answer all arrest-related questions with a "No," then it's conceivable that her colleges will never learn of this incident if she doesn't tell them. Ironically, had she been caught sharing a cigarette beneath the basketball bleachers, she probably would have faced a suspension and would be obliged to disclose this to colleges. Yet a felony committed outside of school may never reach the guidance office and thus the "School Report" that goes to colleges! I know that in my own town, teenage arrests are not routinely shared with school officials, although the grapevine usually does a dandy job of spreading the news. So it's possible that your daughter could end up not reporting this to colleges at all.

But, as noted above, if this were my daughter, I wouldn't endorse that strategy. I would expect her to face up to her wrongdoing and its consequences. I would not want her to begin her college years looking over her shoulder, concerned that a past infraction would catch up with her. Moreover, every college acceptance is "conditional." It is based on the admission staff's assumption that the student will finish senior year with both an academic and personal record that is comparable to the one on the application. Some colleges (perhaps including the college that has accepted your daughter already?) will specifically demand that students report all post-admission disciplinary actions. In most instances, however, this expectation is merely implied.

In spite of the anxiety that your daughter's arrest is surely causing you, there is a silver lining. You may hear that students convicted of a drug charge are not eligible for federal financial aid. Although this is true, it applies only to students who were convicted of the drug offense while receiving federal aid. So if your daughter has not yet completed a FAFSA but plans to, she will not be ineligible for federal aid because she wasn't an aid recipient at the time of her arrest.

So although it's very possible that your daughter can continue with her college plans in spite of this arrest, you now need to decide if that's the best route for her to take. Has your daughter been forthcoming about her drug use? Do you trust what she's told you about it? (It seems like every child I know who was ever apprehended for illegal drugs or for underage drinking has maintained to mom or dad that "It wasn't mine -- I was just keeping it for a friend!" or "This was the first time; I've never done anything like this before!" I've been repeatedly amazed by how naive the parents are. Sure, we all want to believe our own kids, but we were once kids ourselves and should know better!)

If you suspect that your daughter has a substance abuse problem or that she may not be ready to handle the independence and temptations of college life, then selecting a commuter college might be a necessity, as you've already suggested. But, instead, I propose a gap year. Frankly, I'm convinced that almost any student can benefit from a year off from school before starting college. But in your daughter's case in particular, the gap year will allow her to undergo drug treatment if she needs it, and will provide her with an opportunity to mature and maybe to pursue a project that will help show admission officials that she's serious about her anti-drug stance. For example, if she were to volunteer with younger teens in your community, leading worthwhile activities and promoting healthy choices, this should spur admission officials to push her arrest toward the back burner when evaluating her application next fall.

If it's any consolation, "The Dean" has received many queries like yours. And over the eons, I've observed that, despite the sadness, disappointment and confusion that such situations create, what seems today like an enormous roadblock to your daughter's future will appear far smaller in the rear-view mirror. Often, in fact, these detours even turn out to be fortuitous because they lead a child to a new and unanticipated destination that turns out to be more "right" than the original one.

A version of this Ask the Dean first appeared in November 2018

More questions about colleges rescinding offers? Have some experience or advice to share? Join the conversation on the College Confidential forums.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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