Can You Reapply to a College After Being Rejected?
Applying as a transfer student is more advantageous than after a gap year, experts say.
By Cole Claybourn | December 14, 2023, at 1:12 p.m.
Receiving a college application rejection can be a tough pill to swallow. But for students determined to attend a specific school, all hope may not be lost.
Eventually winning acceptance to a college that has rejected you may take some patience, strategy and self-inventory.
While students typically can’t reapply during the same admissions cycle in which they were rejected, most colleges allow students to reapply in the future, but that generally depends on the circumstances of the rejection, says Sacha Thieme, assistant vice provost and executive director of admissions at Indiana University—Bloomington.
“If the decision was based on space, then the institution may offer the opportunity for the student to be considered for a future term,” she wrote in an email. “There are also some programs through which a student could start abroad in the fall and enroll at the institution for the following spring term.”
If the rejection was based on academic readiness, students often have two choices: take a gap year or reapply as a transfer student after earning credits at another four-year institution or a community college.
“Surprisingly, some schools have higher admission rates for transfer students compared to the regular admissions process,” says Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education. “So, if that’s the case for your target school, keep your hopes high.”
The gap year route after rejection for academic unpreparedness “is much harder to do with success,” says Dan Lee, co-founder of Solomon Admission Consulting. “Colleges are asking, ‘If we rejected you last year with the same grades, testing and activities, why should we change that this year after a gap year?’ Transfer admissions success is more likely as students can show college grades and activities and one’s high school record becomes much less important.”
Experts say students should decide if reapplying to a school is worth it, especially if the school they ended up attending is working out. Transferring can affect a student’s academic timeline and financial aid, as credits and scholarships might not transfer with them.
But for students set on reapplying to a college that rejected them, here are some tips experts share on how to navigate that process and increase chances of admissions the next time around.
Can You Appeal an Admissions Decision?
In most cases, especially in early decision applications, admissions decisions are final. In rare cases, students who are rejected may appeal their decision, but only if there was an egregious error in their submitted application, such as the wrong transcript being sent in or grades being inaccurately reported.
Lee points to the University of California system as an example of where appeals have been successful. Examples include situations where new information becomes available, such as a performance-affecting learning difference that was diagnosed after applying, or extenuating personal or family circumstances, such as taking care of a sick relative to a degree that requires an applicant to attend college close to the school that rejected them.
“The UC appeal success rate is normally under 2%,” he says. “At top colleges other than the UCs, the success rate is closer to zero.”
Applicants should research each school’s appeal policy and process, including deadlines. In most cases, appealing is not worth the headache, Huguet says.
“However, if you believe you have a strong case and that your profile significantly surpasses that of the majority of accepted students, it is advisable to consult with your school counselor or a private consultant,” he says. “They can help validate your claims.”
How to Improve Admissions Odds After a Rejection
Colleges reject applicants for various reasons.
“It could be that their essay was terrible or their extracurricular descriptions were not properly formatted, or they forgot a letter of recommendation,” says Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of the admissions firm Command Education.
Other reasons may include poor SAT and ACT scores, a high school course load lacking rigor or Advanced Placement courses, a missed deadline or insufficient information regarding academic and extracurricular accomplishments. Institutional priorities – certain criteria that a school commits to meet with each individual class – vary each year and can dictate how applicants are chosen.
College admissions is not always a meritocracy, Lee says, and at many of the elite schools, “the vast majority of qualified applicants don’t get in.”
Some of these things are out of an applicant’s control, so experts suggest focusing on what is within control. That includes “improving grades and rigor, taking their extracurricular involvements to a higher level and making a bigger impact, reworking all of their essays, and ensuring they thoroughly know the school to which they are applying inside and out,” Livingston says. “Make that knowledge clear in the application, and convince admission officers they will make an immediate impact if admitted and that they belong at that school.”
While taking a gap year may provide students with unique travel and work opportunities, schools still typically want to see evidence of additional academic coursework at the college level before reconsidering admission, Thieme says.
The burden of proof for why they should be admitted when reapplying is “extreme” for gap year students compared to transfer students, Lee says.
“Transfer admission means you’re wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch, so a stellar academic record in college will offset problems in high school. With a gap year, since the grades are the same and testing is most likely the same, you have to completely rebrand yourself to have any shot.”
Is Deferral a Rejection?
Rather than rejecting applicants, many schools defer their application or put them on a waitlist. This typically happens during early decision or early action, but it can also happen during regular decision. This may feel like a rejection, but it’s not.
In these situations, students should send a “letter of continued interest,” which indicates the school remains their top choice and they would attend if eventually admitted. It also keeps admissions offices in the loop of any major developments since the application was submitted.
But wait a bit before sending such a letter to let the initial emotions die down, and use tact, says Connie Livingston, head of counselors at college admissions consulting company Empowerly.
“Admissions officers are exhausted. They need a little break,” she says. “They want to decompress for a couple of weeks, so I always advise students to wait until mid-to-late January to send that letter of continued interest.”
What Is the Process of Reapplying to a College?
Whether a student is applying again as a transfer student or after taking a gap year, the process is similar to regular admissions. Students need to apply through the school’s website, demonstrate strong academic credentials and provide solid letters of recommendation.
Some colleges have specific applications for transfer students while others accept the Common App. Students reapplying after a gap year may need to contact their high school counselor to obtain their transcript and perhaps new letters of recommendation. Avoid submitting a replica of the application that was initially rejected, experts say.
Some schools may ask if an applicant has previously applied there. Others may have record of the prior application, depending on the school’s record retention practices and how recently the first application was submitted.
Those who have plans to reapply to a school that rejected them should keep their mind open about other opportunities, experts say. High school seniors who haven’t decided on a college should eagerly explore other schools and keep an open mind. Potential transfer students should weigh the pros and cons of leaving their current school to start over at a new one.
“Embrace the ‘now,’ whatever that may be,” Livingston says. “Get involved at your current college, do well and excel, make friends and have fun.”
Originally published on U.S.News on December 14, 2023