Your college student may never need to appeal any decision made by their college. They may never be in a situation involving a dismissal from school, late withdrawal from a class, grade change, judicial decision, or other special circumstance. If that is the case, good for your student! However, a few students may feel that some policy or decision should be reconsidered. Those students may need to appeal the decision to the appropriate board or committee at the college.
Is an appeal wise?
Appealing a college decision is not always the best thing for your college student. The purpose of an appeal is usually to allow the student to explain extenuating circumstances or to provide additional information that may not have been available at the time that the decision was made. The student may be able to demonstrate that some circumstance has changed — perhaps a health situation, work situation, family situation, or even a change of focus or field of study. It is important that you and your student remember, however, that an appeal is meant as an exception and to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. It is not meant as an avenue simply because the student is unhappy with the decision of the college. An appeal may not be in the best interest of the student. If nothing has changed, taking a break or accepting the decision may be in order.
What if your student decides to appeal?
If your student does decide to appeal the college’s decision, there are a few things that can be done to improve the chances of succeeding. Of course, there is no guarantee that anything will help. The college may hold firm on its decision, in which case your student may need to consider alternatives. However, here are a few things your student may want to think about or do to strengthen their appeal.
- Know the institutional policy. The college catalog will usually state clearly what the policy is for an appeal. Your student should be clear about the process, the timing, and the administrators, faculty or students involved.
- Adhere to all deadlines. Nothing damages an appeal right from the start more than missing the deadline. It may mean that the appeal will not be considered at all.
- Read and fill out all paperwork carefully. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Your student will want to demonstrate that they are taking this process seriously.
- If anyone else is involved, a professor, an advisor, a resident assistant or director, your student might talk to them and solicit support. A letter or statement of support or explanation from college staff might help to strengthen the appeal.
- If your student has a good track record other than this situation, they should point that out. If they have never appealed a decision before, point that out. If your student has strong grades and no judicial or conduct issues, point that out. Appeal committees often consider the whole student and are looking at all pieces of information.
- Your student should explain the situation as fully and honestly as possible, including all pertinent information. Telling only part of the story or stretching or slanting the truth will not help make the case.
- It is important that your student take responsibility for their actions and not make excuses. While the committee certainly needs to hear about any special or extenuating circumstances, they have heard all of the excuses many times before. It will help your student’s case if they demonstrate maturity and understanding by holding accepting accountability for actions rather than making excuses.
- If your student has any copies of helpful information — drafts of papers, copies of forms, etc. they should be included with the appeal request. The more concrete support and facts there are, the better.
- If your student has the opportunity to be present for a hearing, take advantage of it. Some schools do not allow the student to attend, but if they can, they should. This will allow the committee to clarify any questions they might have or for your student to correct any misinformation.
- Finally, your student should honestly explain why they feel that granting this appeal is appropriate. What has changed? Why was the decision in error? What will be different going forward? If your student cannot explain this clearly, then perhaps the appeal is not the best thing.
Colleges which have an appeal process for a judicial or academic decision generally carefully consider appeals. If your student has determined that it makes sense to appeal a decision, then proceeding thoughtfully and carefully with the appeal makes sense. You may be able to help your student determine whether an appeal is appropriate and provide support throughout the process. If an appeal does not seem to be appropriate, then your support may be especially needed as your student decides on next steps.