Why Would a College Rescind an Acceptance?
You may have seen the news stories this spring about the more than ten incoming Harvard freshmen who, after contributing to an inappropriate forum in a closed Facebook group, received letters rescinding their acceptances. Speculation swirled over whether the rescinded offers were justified or even allowed. Some argued that the students were exercising their freedom of speech. Others argued that they did so on a forum representing themselves as Harvard students. Ultimately, the students were held accountable for their actions because, like most colleges, Harvard’s offers of acceptance are conditional and can be revoked at any time.
Ultimately, college acceptances are offered with an agreement of good will that even after acceptance you will continue to achieve at the same levels as you did before. This applies not only academically but also to your contributions as a member of the community and your representation of yourself and the institution. Colleges can rescind acceptance at any time based on any number of subjective criteria.
In a June 2017 article in Inside Higher Ed, Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College, notes that “offers of admission are made with the provision that admitted students maintain their strong record of academic achievement and personal integrity.”
In the same article, Louis Hirsh, private admissions consultant and former director of admissions at the University of Delaware, points out:
So long as their letters of admission alert students to this possibility, colleges have the right to rescind their offers of admission when they come upon credible information that reflects poorly on a student’s character, just as they have the right to rescind when they receive a final transcript that shows a steep decline in a student’s final grades.
So, should you be worried about a college rescinding an offer of acceptance? What are the common reasons that colleges revoke offers, and how can you avoid them? In this post, we’ll outline the three most common reasons that a college might rescind your acceptance, and we’ll offer some advice for how to avoid the situation completely.
How Likely Is It That a College Will Revoke a Offer of Acceptance?
In the fall of 2009, 22% of colleges said they’d revoked an admission offer, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling’s annual State of College Admissions report. This data has not been collected more recently, but it’s safe to say that with the introduction of social media and the increased online presence of most high school students, this number has at least remained constant, if not risen.
However, colleges aren’t likely to revoke your admission for slight infractions or slips in your grades. Instead, they are more concerned about flagrant disciplinary issues or significant declines in academic performance. Basically, they want to see that you continue to perform similarly to the grades you had when you were initially offered acceptance. While revocation of a college acceptance is possible, it isn’t a common occurrence, so you should rest assured that it’s unlikely to happen to you.
That said, here are the top three reasons that a college acceptance might be revoked.
1. If You Have a Decrease in Academic Performance Before College
Grades and test scores are a big part of what gets you into college in the first place. If your grades slip significantly after you’ve been accepted, it could be a red flag. Colleges might think that you couldn’t handle your course load during the second semester, or even worse, that you stopped applying yourself.
When this happens, you might find yourself receiving a letter from the college giving you the chance to justify your academic slip if it was not too severe. In fact, it’s not uncommon for rising freshman who slacked off during their senior year of high school to receive a letter that requires a response, as discussed in this 2012 New York Times article. This serves as a tough reminder that you will need to continue to apply yourself if you expect to succeed in college.
If your performance was significantly worse than it was when you were accepted to college, you might find your acceptance revoked entirely. In a 2016 article in Time Magazine, Gonzaga University Dean of Admissions, Julie McCulloh, reported that she usually sends a warning letter to students whose grades drop slightly and generally reverses about two admissions decisions a year when an applicant’s GPA falls significantly.
McCulloh offers the examples of a student who maintained a 3.4 GPA throughout high school before earning four Ds and a C in his second semester of senior year and another student whose overall GPA dropped in his senior year by nearly a full point.
2. If You Have Disciplinary Infractions Before College
Many colleges require that they’re notified of any disciplinary infractions during your senior year, even after you’ve been offered acceptance. This could include school-related issues, such as cheating or truancy, or legal issues, such as drug or alcohol offenses. As exemplified by Harvard’s recent high-profile example, this can also include representation of yourself on social media.
Essentially, colleges expect that you will continue to hold yourself to a high level of personal integrity, contributing positively to your community and reflecting well on your educational institution. If you do something that calls your integrity into question, you might find yourself without a college acceptance. In the event that you find yourself in a situation that warrants your college being notified of your infractions, it is best to get ahead of the game and make sure that they hear it from you, rather than from the school. Being candid will lend more credibility and maturity to your defense.
3. If You Falsified Information on Your Application
The final common reason that an offer of acceptance might be revoked occurs when a college discovers that certain information on an application was falsified. When you sign your application, you give your word that everything on it is accurate as far as you know.
If you lie about an award or leave out certain information, such as the fact that you already failed out of college once, you leave yourself vulnerable to the college finding out and revoking your acceptance. Don’t assume that a college won’t find out about falsified information on your application.
How to Avoid a Rescinded Offer of Acceptance
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to avoid having your acceptance revoked. If you simply continue your efforts through the end of your senior year, you likely won’t have anything to worry about. This means continuing to extend yourself seriously towards your academic work and maintaining your personal integrity. By working hard throughout your senior year and not letting up even once your college applications have been submitted, you’re unlikely to experience anything significant enough to warrant a revoked acceptance.
Just be sure that you aren’t so excited to be accepted that you let all guards down and participate in behavior that wouldn’t otherwise be acceptable, such as the case of the students whose offers at Harvard were revoked.
What to Do if Your Acceptance Is Revoked
It is usually possible to appeal the decision to revoke your acceptance, but you will need to prove that your actions or performance were significantly impacted by factors outside of your control.
You’ll have to ask yourself some difficult questions. Were there extenuating circumstances? Is there a side to the story that might justify your actions or your performance? If you truly feel as though your actions or performance can be explained, appealing the decision might be worth your time and effort. You’ll need to write a letter explaining the circumstances. Be certain to accept responsibility where responsibility is due while also explaining what made your situation particularly difficult. The very worst that can happen at this point is your acceptance revocation will stand.
Remember that once your college applications have been submitted, you still have work to do. Getting your acceptance is a momentous first step, but you’ll need to carry your success through the end of your senior year, and into your college years if you want to stay on the right track.
If you have questions about college applications and how to best present yourself as an applicant, consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, you’ll be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how to keep your momentum going even after you’ve been accepted.
To learn more about preparing for college applications, check out these posts:
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.