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Critique of Emma's Appeal Letter for Her Academic Dismissal

Learn the strengths and weaknesses of Emma's appeal letter

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Below is a discussion of Emma's appeal letter for her academic dismissal.

First off, we need to recognize that any student who has been dismissed from college has an uphill battle to fight. The college has indicated that it lacks confidence in your ability to succeed academically, so the appeal letter must reinstill that confidence.

A successful appeal must do several things:

  1. show that you understand what went wrong
  2. show that you take responsibility for the academic failures
  3. show that you have a plan for future academic success
  4. in a broad sense, show that you are being honest with yourself and the committee

Many students who appeal an academic dismissal make a serious mistake by trying to place the blame for their problems on someone else. Certainly external factors can contribute to academic failure, but in the end you are the one who failed those papers and exams. It is not a bad thing to own up to your miscalculations and mistakes. In fact, doing so reveals great maturity. The appeals committee does not expect college students to be perfect. A big part of college is making mistakes and then learning from them, so it makes sense that a successful appeal shows that you recognize your mistakes and have learned from them.

Emma's appeal succeeds pretty well in all of the above areas. First of all, she does not try to blame anyone but herself. Sure, she has extenuating circumstances -- her father's illness -- and she is wise to explain those circumstances. However, she acknowledges that she did not handle her situation well. She should have been in contact with her professors when she was struggling. She should have withdrawn from classes and taken a leave of absence when her father's illness started to dominate her life. She didn't do either of these things and she doesn't try to make excuses for her mistakes.

The overall tone of Emma's letter sounds pleasingly sincere. The committee now knows why Emma had such bad grades, and the reasons seem both plausible and pardonable. Assuming she did earn solid grades in her earlier semesters, the committee is likely to believe Emma's claim that she is a "good student who had one very, very bad semester."

Emma also presents a plan for her future success. The committee will be pleased to hear that she is communicating with her advisor. In fact, Emma would be wise to have her advisor write a letter of support to go with her appeal.

A couple pieces of Emma's future plan could use a little more detail. She says she "will focus much better on [her] schoolwork" and "manage [her] time more wisely." I'd like to hear more about these points. Should another family crisis arise, why will her focus be better the second time around? Why will she be able to focus better? Also, what exactly is her time management plan? She won't become a better time manager simply be saying she will do so. How exactly is she going to learn and develop more effective time management strategies?

On the whole, however, Emma comes across as a student who deserves a second chance. Her letter is polite and respectful, and she is honest with the committee about what went wrong. A severe appeals committee may reject the appeal because of the mistakes Emma made, but at many colleges they would be willing to give her a second chance.

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