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December 9, 2007 3:23 PM   Subscribe

How can I best petition for the reconsideration of a grad school application? Or should I even try?

I've applied to three programs, and have so far have received a decision from only one (as I applied early decision). I did not interview in person as I'm based on the left coast and was told that I interviewing by phone was not a disadvantage, although hindsight tells me that a face-to-face connection would have communicated my passion for this program more effectively. (I won't hear from the other two programs until Jan & Feb).

I know of one individual who was not accepted to this program (one year ago) and when they asked to be reconsidered by letter, they did a few months later receive an acceptance out of the blue (I don't know the details of this, but know that based on this account that this school doesn't have a hard and fast rule against doing this).

If I pursue a petition for reconsideration, should I ask the Office of Admissions about how to formally go about this, or should I just send a well-written letter and offer to fly out for a more in-depth discussion of why I feel I should be reconsidered?

How do I walk the fine line between looking pathetic and/or desperate, versus communicating how much I desire to have this privilege and assure them I can succeed? I would appreciate insight or advice from anyone who has experienced something similar and was successful, or not.
posted by Asherah to Education (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have never heard of a flat-out rejection being reconsidered in a single application cycle. Maybe if you were *very* close and have a strong advocate on the faculty you might get a hearing again, but I tend very much to doubt it.

I would write the chair of the admissions committee (not the grad school, but the department) and/or a member of the faculty with whom you have established some level of communication and ask how you can strengthen your application for the following year; that will communicate your seriousness. At the end of that, you could ask if there is any chance that they might reconsider as they roll through higher names on the list and get turned down, which sometimes happens. But the way the process works, I don't see how an admissions committee could change its mind after a formal decision is rendered unless they have a waiting list and you are on it.

I speak as the DGS of an academic department and the chair of grad admissions committee for many years.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2007

While not for grad school, I did appeal my undergrad rejection and was admitted two weeks later. I was diplomatic when I called the admissions office - I explained how I was curious about why I was denied more than angry, and I ended up speaking to a person who actually told me the reason and also told me I was welcome to appeal, how much of a chance she thought I had (!), and how to do so - by getting a teacher or another person who could speak to my experience to write a statement supporting my letter appealing the decision (in which I outlined why I felt I should be admitted).

In my letter, I talked about how I had really dedicated myself to what I was passionate about (international relations, languages) at the expense of things (math, and so my GPA) I knew, long-term, were not going to pay such rich intellectual dividends for me, and how a denial now could derail my plans to study abroad or do internships (as going to community college and transferring would have meant a much more limited selection of programs). My support letter came from my International Baccalaureate adviser, who talked about some other things he saw in me that weren't really quantifiable in the grades and evaluations the admissions office had asked for - like how he saw me helping other people decipher the references in The Waste Land, or how he'd been really impressed by a speech I gave as part of a mock presidential campaign. We also both mentioned that I was the first person in my family to apply to a four-year university, let alone attend, which we thought might have been skipped over by the admissions team because of the relatively high-income area where we lived and all the cultural assumptions about the educational background of people who live there that go with that.

I can say that after I was admitted (and rejected by everywhere else I had applied, natch), I had a really big chip on my shoulder about the place that "didn't want me" and it took a long time, probably until my third year, I am a little embarrassed to say, to get over that. So beware.

That said, this experience - being rejected, calling the admissions office, finding out what to do, realizing that yes, there is a chance, and then being admitted - helped me give advice to a friend who applied to the same system of universities for law school end up being moved from rejection, to wait-list, to admission, all over a month.

I say you should 1) find a faculty ally on campus, if you've got one, 2) call the school/program and find out what, exactly, they'd like to hear from you, if anything, and 3) do that, with the ally, immediately, like as soon as you hang up the phone. Perhaps they've just not received a certain form! Good luck.

On preview: fourcheesemac probably knows way more about this than I do, but you asked for anecdotes about similar experiences, so there you go.
posted by mdonley at 3:50 PM on December 9, 2007

Grad admissions is different from undergrad admissions in that the grad applications go to the department and undergrad stay in the admissions office and decisions are made by the admissions staff.

I think your best bet is to figure out compelling reasons why you want to study at that particular university and how it dovetails with your experience, desires and talent. Why should they pick you? What do you know about that school that makes you want to study there? Once you have that clear to yourself, call the department head for your application area and have a conversation about your desire to study at that school and what can you do to strengthen your application. Ask if you can resubmit your early decision application during the regular admissions process. Be pleasantly persistent but not a pest. Decisions are often made by committee and getting denied once doesn't mean you'll never get in.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:58 PM on December 9, 2007

4cheesemac- I've never been DGS but did serve on grad admissions, and we did and do reconsider rejections. Sometimes not enough people admitted in a cohort accept our offers, and sometimes a rejected applicant comes back and says that they got (let's say) a 4-year doctoral SSHRC, which takes the funding effort out of our hands. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your experience), these things do matter.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2007

Could you contact the individual that was admitted on appeal? I imagine that he or she would empathize with you very strongly and thus be willing to help you. That kind of inside information could be invaluable.

Furthermore, I would contact the head of the admissions committee and ask for advice on how to improve your application with an eye toward applying next year. After that conversation if he or she suggests that you were very close (e.g. you don't get a lot of suggestions on how to improve) you might then ask about appealing. Of course, if the feedback indicates that, in the eyes of the committee, you have many drawbacks you'll know not to even bother to ask about an appeal.
posted by oddman at 4:10 PM on December 9, 2007

General advice first, then advice that applies to what I think is your situation....

Remember that grad admissions decisions are not personal judgments of your worthiness. It's not that they think you don't want it bad enough. In many humanities departments they have 10 or 20 times as many applicants as they have spots to offer. Suppose 1/4 of the applicants are well-qualified and passionate. There are still far too many people. Decisions come down to factors like: do they already have too many people in your sub-specialty? do they already have too many people from your undergrad institution? are they making a special push for people with their own funding this year? or whatever. That is, considerations that you can't affect and which reflect no judgment on you at all.

fourcheesemac has good advice: Ask very politely if there is anything you could do to strengthen your application for next year, since you're so certain that you would be a good fit for the program. Ask if there's something about your preparation, for example, that you could beef up by taking more classes.

But (sadly) you are not in a position to demand an explanation from them. You might get lucky and get to actually speak to someone who's on the admissions committee. Don't expect that just saying "but I really am passionate about the field!" will melt them. Lots of people are passionate about the field. (This is good; it's good that you're passionate. I'm just saying, you're not alone.) The department only has so many spots, and there are lots of considerations that govern the assignment of those spots.

... Actually, now I look at your history and it sounds like this is for a nursing program, and you know what the problem might be (low undergrad GPA). This seems like a very different situation from a 5-spot humanities PhD program admissions decision. I would call them up and say "I had my head on backwards during undergrad but now I'm straightened out. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get into this program, talk to me about what my options are."
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:20 PM on December 9, 2007

Also: you say you applied early decision. Does this mean that your application has been totally rejected, or just that it will now fall in with the late-decision group?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:22 PM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks for the input thus far. I should have emphasized that this is a combo program where I would be attaining an accelerated BS (Nursing) and then directly heading into a Master's program with the end goal being an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner role. However, the program interview content focused on the master's studies portion more than the immediate undergrad studies. (This would be a second Bachelor's for me, thus the accelerated timeframe.)

I'm fairly sure its the last three quarters of my undergrad performance that are off-putting, however I did my best to address the reasons for this performance in my goal statement and interview and I've been back in school since January 2006 taking necessary and beyond necessary Bio/Chem pre-reqs (with a 4.0). I've also taken a few grad-level courses to demonstrate that I can handle graduate content. I've also shadowed NPs and earned a fairly competitive internship where I work directly in critical care units (ICU, NICU) here in SoCal.

If I do decide to contact them and ask about the possibility of reconsideration I will be contacting the Director of Admissions for the School of Nursing. I've not met her in person, but have heard from many that she has also been willing to listen and meet with candidates readily. The only reason I've felt that offering an in-person meeting would be beneficial is that it would give a chance to emphasize that over the past two years I've done everything I could to commit to this career goal. If I am not successful, I also believe it would be helpful to receive any feedback that could potentially strengthen my application if I decide to apply next cycle. They receive 650 apps and take between 140-150 applicants each cycle.
posted by Asherah at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2007

Come and ask over here. My first reaction is that it is a hell of a long shot.
posted by LarryC at 5:06 PM on December 9, 2007

If you do appeal and are accepted - be grateful they accepted you! If you appeal and are still not accepted - what have you lost?? Can't hurt to try!
posted by s77v at 10:35 PM on December 9, 2007

4cheesemac- I've never been DGS but did serve on grad admissions, and we did and do reconsider rejections. Sometimes not enough people admitted in a cohort accept our offers, and sometimes a rejected applicant comes back and says that they got (let's say) a 4-year doctoral SSHRC, which takes the funding effort out of our hands. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your experience), these things do matter. posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:01 PM on December 9

I'm sure it happens, and in the rare instance where any of the many grad admissions committees I've served on did reject someone who later won an NSF or a Ford or similar full ride fellowship, I have seen applicants reconsidered (since the fellowship means little or no cost to the admitting department, and is prestigious for the department as well as the student).

But the odds that an admissions committee would consider a petition from an applicant who had been rejected on objective grounds already, and not just be annoyed by it? I think they are slim to none in the arts and sciences universe I dwell in. Maybe it's different in nursing school, about which I know little.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:56 AM on December 10, 2007

Best answer: Update: I petitioned for reconsideration, and wrote a very sincere and detailed letter explaining some academic missteps that I had undertaken, which as I correctly guessed, were the reason for the committee's ambivelence. I was informed that my decision was amended based on this information and I have been accepted to the program.

Just wanted to update that it can be done successfully!
posted by Asherah at 12:28 PM on February 14, 2008

Congratulations - that's great news. Good luck with the program!
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:49 PM on February 14, 2008

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