Students applying to college can feel a lot of stress. For students who have been in a bit of trouble during their high school career, they may feel even more stress. Many college applications, including the Common Application, ask students to discuss disciplinary violations. Applications ask students to be honest about all disciplinary issue they may have had, but many students are scared to share their history.
College counselors receive many questions about the disciplinary questions. An example I have received is, “Do I really have to tell them about the time I was suspended freshman year? I haven’t been in trouble since and have done great academically.” Students are very scared their disciplinary issue will have a negative affect on their chance of admission. While it is true many colleges have used disciplinary violations to make admissions decisions, it is not always a deal breaker.
If you have had a disciplinary infraction during your high school career, here are some tips on how to handle it.
- Be honest. If you have been in trouble, answer the question honestly. If you are dishonest and do not own up to your offense, colleges can still find out. Recommendation forms typically ask about disciplinary offenses and many schools can disclose the information to the colleges. If colleges find out about an offense from someone other than the student, it could lead to an automatic denial. If colleges find out after you have been admitted, they could rescind their offer. Own your mistake and be honest with the admissions committee.
- Take responsibility. If you answered “yes” to any of the disciplinary questions, you will be asked to share details about the offense. Colleges do not care if your friends made you do it. Colleges do not want to hear you brushing off the offense or being defensive. Take responsibility for what you did.
- What did you learn? In addition to sharing details about the offense, share what you learned from the incident. By owning up to the offense and sharing what you learned, it could show the admissions committee maturity and that the behavior will not happen on their campus if you are admitted.
- Talk with others. If you are concerned about the disciplinary issue, talk to your recommendation writers. Since they are asked to disclose this information as well, share your concerns. While what they write in the recommendation letter is up to them, a discussion with you might ease your nerves. In addition, they may decide to take up your case in the letter and reiterate your growth and maturity since the offense.
Some infractions will be seen as more serious than others. Academic dishonesty or violence, especially if there has been a pattern, could be a deal breaker at some colleges. If the infractions are more serious, it could affect the admissions decision. Students can be proactive and contact the admissions office to ask for a meeting to discuss the issue. Some colleges will be open to the idea, while others will not. The willingness to discuss the issue can show the admissions officer maturity. It also can show the admissions officer that you have learned from your mistakes and will not do it again. However, with more serious offenses, students should have some safety colleges on their list and be prepared to discuss the infraction with every college on their list.
College admissions committees do look at disciplinary violations. However, many colleges know students sometimes make poor choices. A minor infraction probably will not make a difference at many colleges, especially if students can show they have learned from their mistakes and they have not continued the behavior. While it can be scary to share your history, by owning your mistakes and taking responsibility, colleges will see maturity and integrity.