• Dr. Thom

How to handle a disciplinary issue in your application


Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

“Is there anything that will need to be explained in your application?”


It’s the most awkward part of every launch meeting we have with a new client, and to be honest, I really hate having to ask this question. But it really matters because we are all flawed human beings who make mistakes.


Everyone knows that an application is supposed to highlight the positive aspects of your background, but occasionally life happens, or bad decisions happen, or some combination thereof. That’s why it is sometimes necessary to address these “life happenings” in your application. This week, the Common Application announced that it would be eliminating the question requesting a student’s disciplinary history from the main application. Colleges can still request this information on their Common Application supplement, so if you have anything on your record that may need some “‘splaining,” here are our top tips.


How does it work? If a school is asking for your disciplinary record and there is something you will need to disclose, there will usually be a two-part question where you can do so. First, you will answer a yes/no answer along the lines of:


“Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution you have attended from the 9th grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include, but are not limited to: probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution.”

If you answer yes to this question, you will usually be required to submit a written statement that explains the nature of the disciplinary infraction.


Full disclosure is key: One of my favorite (and therefore my sons most hated) “dad-isms” is “If you mess up, you fess up.” So it is with disciplinary disclosure. Keep in mind that admissions officers have fantastic imaginations. If you do not explain yourself fully in your application, they will be happy to do it for you - and probably not in a way that is beneficial to you. Don’t say, “I made a bad choice” without disclosing exactly what that choice was.


You do not have to beat yourself up here, just be complete and honest about it.


Own up completely: Admissions committees want to know that you have learned from the experience, and if they get the sense of denial from you in your explanation, they will worry that a repeat bad decision is more of a certainty. Do not try and litigate your innocence in your college application. Own up and move on.


Learning is the key: To a person, every admissions officer I have ever spoken to about this issue has highlighted the importance of indicating what specifically was learned from experience. In fact, they have consistently indicated that this is the most important aspect of any disciplinary statement.


The most important thing to keep in mind is that getting into some trouble in high school by itself is not a death sentence to your college admissions chances. Admissions officers understand that young people sometimes make unfortunate choices and earnestly want to hear your side of the issue. Building character and personal strength comes from trial and error, not through living perfectly, admissions officers know this.


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