College Pete

Spider-Man, College Admissions ‘Decisions v Offers’, When/How To Appeal

Spider-Man, College Admissions ‘Decisions v Offers’, When/How To Appeal

My kids and I went to see Spider-Man: No Way Home last Friday night. It was pretty awesome – 2 and a half hours of non-stop blockbuster adventure – with a teeny tiny, small but important lesson for college-bound high school students.

Quick PSA for those who haven’t seen it yet: This post does NOT contain any spoilers! What I’m about to talk about has nothing to do with the main plot of the movie, nor does it spoil the many sub-plots which are numerous.

As Spider-Man aficionados know, Peter Parker is the ultimate high school science geek. Naturally (said with tongue only slightly in cheek), he and his fellow classmates all aspire to attend MIT.  But with a 7.3% admit rate, it wasn’t a surprise (at least to me) that, fictional or not, none of them actually were admitted. What did surprise me was the side conversation about ‘appealing their rejections’ (which they deemed to be ‘mistakes’) that took place among Peter and his buddies upon learning their MIT admissions fates. And lest we confuse fact with Peter Parker’s fiction, I wanted to clarify a few things about college admissions and funding decisions v. admissions and funding offers, deferrals, rejections, and appeals.

First, let’s start with college admissions. College admissions officers are people – just like you and I (only usually much younger than I). They have emotions; they make decisions with a specific set of data; and of course, sometimes they do make mistakes (real or perceived).

Each year, the most popular schools receive tens of thousands of applications for admission. Last year alone, schools like MIT (33,000), Harvard (57,000), and UCLA (139,000) all broke records for their largest applicant pools on record. That’s a lot of transcripts to review and stories to read about marching band, Speech & Debate, or soccer tournaments. It’s estimated that each application gets around 12-20 minutes of attention. It’s competitive – most of the applicants to any given school will meet that school’s requirements. Plenty – in fact, most –  ‘qualified’ applicants will be rejected. With that in mind, I’d say quite a few “mistakes” are made every year, as in students who should get admitted do not.

But this is where Spider-Man got it wrong: While there are some limited exceptions, those “mistakes” are rarely something that you can appeal with the admissions office.

If you were denied admission to MIT or another highly selective college, appealing your decision will likely not get you very far. When it comes to a denial, or rejection, decisions tend to be final. At that point, it’s time to pick up the pieces and set your sights and ambitions onto the next school. Period. To this point, we encourage all of our families to focus on having multiple, good admissions options, as opposed to falling in love with any particular school (more on our students’ early results below).

Walking out of the theater, my son did, of course, remind me of his friend who successfully appealed his admission decision. And the University of Florida explains that admissions appeals can be considered but under rare circumstances. Those rare circumstances tend to refer to instances like: your transcript sent by your high school was inaccurate; or there was some other flaw in your application that was out of your control. Again, these are the very rare and unlikely exceptions, and the successful appeal is also very rare and unlikely. Put simply, you should not expect an admissions office to change its decision from deny to admit. It really is a rare occurrence.

Now a deferral is another story, and here is where Peter Parker’s conversation with his friends offers a lesson for college-bound students and their parents.

Getting deferred does NOT mean the same thing as being denied. In the past, we have had multiple students over the years go from ‘deferred’ to ‘accepted’! That said, it does mean that you’ll have to live with the ambiguity of ‘wait and see’, which we know is much easier said than done! Yet ambiguity is part of the college admissions process and part of life.

There are many reasons, and rumored reasons, for a ‘deferred decision’. Among them: they want to see your 1st semester grades, perhaps they want you to take the SAT or ACT once more, or they had more applicants than anticipated. Perhaps they were truly overwhelmed by the number of applications received and they didn’t yet review your application. Maybe they’re waiting to see the size of their overall applicant pool to manage their ‘Admit Rate’. Perhaps they are waiting to see who withdraws, now that binding Early Decisions have been received, in order to manage their ‘yield.’ We’ve discussed all of these with our colleagues and with admissions officers directly, and we’ve heard all of these reasons floated. Perhaps we’ll never know about your application specifically, but what we do know, is that unlike a rejection, you can actually do something about being ‘deferred’. And doing the right something(s), can help a deferred applicant become an admitted one!

If you have been ‘deferred’ AND it is truly a school that you want to attend, here is your opportunity to communicate with your admissions officer (yes, you can actually talk to them), demonstrate some interest and possibly move the needle in your direction! Granted, you should have been corresponding with them already – either way, now is an opportunity.

For starters, deferred students should a) let your school counselor know of the decision and b) send a brief, polite note to your Admissions rep that lets them know that you are still very much interested in attending. c) If feasible, plan a visit for early/mid January to show your interest, especially if you haven’t yet shown your face on campus. Xceed and YCC students should contact us immediately after the New Year, and we can review your options together.

Now let’s talk about financial aid offers and scholarships – it’s here that appealing decisions gets really interesting.

Unlike admissions decisions, financial aid offers are far less final, and therefore you have more room to maneuver, to appeal, even (gasp!) negotiate. Notice the language difference: admissions decisions, and financial aid offers. The latter can be countered, as in a counter-offer or appeal. Oftentimes there are very good reasons to appeal a financial aid offer, such as a recent job loss, a medical issue that results in high expense or time away from work (lost wages), a natural disaster, or some other event that has a significant financial impact (i.e. this thing going around called COVID-19). I have written about financial aid appeals before, and surely next spring I’ll have an update for you on that topic.

With admissions decisions, at the end of the day you’re either admitted or denied. There is no in between, no gray area (OK, you could get wait listed but that’s a Spring post). Appealing admissions decisions is largely a waste of time unless you have unique circumstances. Becoming a National Merit Semi-Finalist, winning the Spelling Bee, or earning a First Place Scholastic Art & Writing Award are all noteworthy and important to communicate when it comes to a deferral, but they will not likely change the decision from denial to admit. To move that needle, you will either have to demonstrate a legitimate mistake in the communication of your transcript, etc. and/or have recently saved the world from evil, power-hungry super-villains. For the rest of us not named Peter Parker, I suggest that you put that ‘appeal’ energy into communicating your value and interest to the next school(s) on your list!

Finally, a word of congratulations to our students who applied early and have already been accepted to a number of fantastic institutions including (but definitely not limited to) Alabama, Appalachian State, Arizona, Babson, Brown, Dayton, Delaware, Drexel, Embry-Riddle, Elon, Emory, FAU, Florida Institute of Technology, Georgia, Georgetown, Indiana, Loyola-Chicago, Lynn, Marist, Mercer, Penn State, Northwestern, SCAD, SMU, UCF, UNF, UMass, University of Miami, Univ. of Tampa, USF, Vanderbilt…

Congratulations to all of you and to all of your families. And to all of our senior students who will be hearing from their schools this winter and spring  –  we know you have worked so hard, we’re so proud of you and we know that you’re going to experience a ton of success! And if you are a 10th or 11th grade parent looking for guidance on the college admissions or financial aid process, feel free to reach out to us. You can email us ( or call us at 954-659-1234.

Wishing all of our readers a wonderful and safe holiday season and a new year full of good health, happiness, and good college fortune!

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