If you’re reading this, you know the entire college admissions process is riddled with pitfalls and scary challenges. Letters of recommendation. Essays. Interviews. All of these hurdles inspire tons of anxiety among college-bound students. But none seem so intimidating, so nerve-wracking, so nightmare-inducing, as the threat of having your admission rescinded.

The threat of being rescinded — when a college revokes its offer of admission to a student — is scary for a reason. All that hard work and stress for nothing? Kids often wonder, what did that person do to deserve that? It must have been something really bad. Unless it wasn’t. Oh no, what if it was only a little bad? What if I do something only a little bad and I lose my spot?

I find there’s a bunch of confusion surrounding being rescinded. To be clear, at many colleges, offers of admission are conditioned upon several factors. Those offers can be withdrawn at any time if those conditions aren’t fulfilled. This is because the college wants to make sure that students take their commitment to the school seriously. They don’t want to admit students who work hard only when they want something or who demonstrate certain values only to gain acceptance.

For example, a college might rescind admission if a student’s academic performance takes a dive in the last semester (and I mean a dive). It isn’t just about grades either — a college might rescind admission for non-academic behavior. If you get into big trouble, such as by engaging in criminal behavior or doing something really, really stupid that undermines the picture of the person you claim to be, a college might not like that very much.

Yes, being rescinded happens. But it’s not as common as you might think. And if a student has done something that draws negative attention, the university will more often than not ask for an explanation.

But let’s not even go there, shall we? Let’s just avoid being rescinded altogether. Here’s how:

Keep your grades up.

You can’t slack off your last semester. Try to maintain your grades as much as you can. You don’t want to put all your hard work in jeopardy right before you cross the finish line. I had a Redditor contact me last fall because their admission to a UC school was rescinded over three Cs. So, it happens. Be careful. Here’s a clear rule of thumb: don’t go down over one letter grade per class and don’t do that in more than a class or two.

However, know that one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. If you earn a lower grade in a class or even two, during your last semester despite your best efforts, you’ll probably be ok, especially if your other grades remained steady. Again, bad grades happen. They can happen at any time. Colleges know you have a whole other semester left when they accept you. IF your grades take a dive and you’re rescinded or asked to explain them, be open and honest. I’ve had students write letters about family obligations that took over their lives and they just couldn’t keep up the grades they’d historically made. 

This year, more than ever, it’s going to be important to be transparent with colleges about aspects of your life that have had an effect on your report card: limited access to the internet and technology, members of your household who’ve been struggling with Covid 19 or mental health issues, and economic issues are all real issues that students are coping with and colleges understand that the last nine months could have had an impact on your application and your grades — even this last semester. So be prepared to explain what’s happening to you. Explaining your situation is NOT making excuses.

Don’t be messy on social media OR DO or SAY anything that harms others. It will be probably be posted on social media by someone else. 

Generally, you should focus on being a good person, but you especially need to be careful during your senior year, and especially on social media. On the Tulane Admissions Blog, Jeff Schiffman explains that “The most frequent reason I rescind admissions is dumb stuff you do on social media.” He goes on to explain that admissions officers aren’t trolling social media waiting for you to slip up — they don’t have to. Someone will send them a screenshot of something offensive, and that’s how it starts. As he explains it, “Being a jerk on social media to your peers or your community” is something he has no patience for.  

I think you can just extend that to don’t be a jerk. Look, of course, we all have our moments when we act like jerks, but the fact is cell phone videos get posted or sent to colleges all the time. You don’t want to be the kid who has to explain their language choices to an admissions office. You don’t want to be that kid who has to learn the lesson the hard way that your words matter and they can be hurtful.  More than a few future seniors had their applications rescinded this past fall for their behavior and words — either posted to social media by them or others.  

So, for example, while you and your friends may think your humor is raw and it’s a blast to be super edgy on Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram Stories, the Tulane or Georgia Tech admissions office might feel a bit differently. Don’t let it get to that point.

If something happens and your college comes looking for answers, be open and come clean.

If your college has concerns, they’ll ask you what’s going on, which allows you and your guidance counselor to offer a valid and reasonable explanation. If it’s about grades, talk about how you learned your lesson and how you’ve learned to manage your time more wisely. Explain your situation, especially if you were dealing with overwhelming and extraordinary circumstances. You can say that you got in over your head, and you have learned how to deal with that situation. Explain that if you catch yourself in a bind in college, you will immediately go to the tutoring center and meet with your professor and TA.

If you did something stupid or mean or illegal, own up to it and talk about how you understand the gravity of your offense. Assure the college that you learned something and you have changed for the better. Reiterate that you made mistakes, learned a painful but important lesson, and you are now ready to steer your academic and behavioral ship in the right direction. Talk about how your experience will make you a better college student now.

For whatever reason (and I hope this never applies to you), if your application is rescinded, reflect on what happened, learn from the experience, grow from what you learned, and move on to the next experience. Unfortunately, if it gets to that point, that’s all you can do. But please please PLEASE know that being rescinded is not common, and if you keep your eye on the prize, you won’t have to worry about it.