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Articles / Applying to College / Can I Ask Why Colleges Turned Me Down?

March 12, 2005

Can I Ask Why Colleges Turned Me Down?

Question: If I'm not accepted to a college, can I ask why?

You can certainly ask, but don't be surprised if the answer isn't entirely clear. Most likely, you'll get some version of this: "Our applicant pool was very competitive, and we had to make some tough choices."


If your SAT scores, class rank, or GPA fell below a college's typical admitted-student range, then admission officers may cite this as a reason for your denial. However, if your grades and test scores were well in the ballpark, don't expect to get a response along the lines of, "Your essay really stunk," "Your guidance counselor doesn't seem to like you," or "You came across in your application as boring ... or conceited ... or unpleasant, etc. (even if it's true).

Chances are, you didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you might have been a very strong contender even though you ultimately didn't get the news you wanted. If you are applying to the Ivies and other elite, hyper-competitive schools, you may be one of the thousands who get turned away for no real reason other than the fact that their places were filled by other candidates who offered more of what the school was seeking this year (football quarterbacks or oboists, rich alumni children or public school students from Montana, etc.)

If you have already established a relationship with an admission staff member (e.g., the one who visited your school or interviewed you when you were on campus) then this would be the person to contact first with your question about your decision.

Every once in a very great while, applicants successfully appeal and overturn their denials, but it's quite rare, and it's not a practice we encourage unless you truly feel there was a real error. (This happens most often at public institutions where decisions are based more on numerical formulas than on subjective factors.)

While it may put your mind at rest to know the source of your disappointment, our advice would be to not query admission staff about their verdicts and, instead, devote your energies to gathering information--and getting psyched up--about the colleges that did accept you.

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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