Advice for Son Expelled for Academic Integrity Violation

Question: My son was expelled from college a few months ago due to egregious academic integrity violations caused by depression and stress during the first few weeks of his freshman year. He plans to take classes during this summer and fall and get his Associate’s degree by December. He wants to apply and attend a 4 year university for the spring 2015 semester.

How much are his chances diminished because of his academic integrity violation (as a freshman, he got into multiple top 20 universities)? How are such situations evaluated by adcoms? What are some things that students in general can do in order to increase their chances at admission during their second time around?

Sorry to hear about this stressful situation. As a parent myself I feel your pain.

An egregious academic integrity violation will definitely have an impact on your son’s future options, but it would be helpful to know more about the exact nature of this violation. Although all colleges take academic integrity very seriously, there is still an unspoken pecking order which can mean that some violations (e.g., breaking or hacking into a professor’s files) may be viewed as worse than others (purchasing a short English essay off the Internet).

However, there is also a huge amount of subjectivity in the way these issues are viewed … just as there is in most aspects of the admissions process. So it’s very possible that your son will have no prayer of acceptance at one college while officials at a comparable one will at least consider his situation.

Because “top 20 universities” are extremely competitive and because many take few transfers, your son should not be optimistic about being admitted to any of the places that already said yes, but they are not entirely out of the question either … just not likely.

If there was a particular reason that a college was hot to get your son when he was in high school (e.g., he was a recruited athlete, an underrepresented minority student, a VIP), then these factors will also come into play when his application is reviewed. Some colleges may want him enough to overlook his past infraction; others will not.

If I knew more about this infraction, I could offer more targeted advice, but in general, here’s what I recommend for him when he’s ready to reapply:

–If he will be attending a two-year college to earn his Associate’s degree, he should talk to a transfer counselor at that school to ask about “articulation agreements” with four-year colleges that would guarantee your son admission as long as he fulfills specified course requirements and earns a specified GPA at the two-year college. If there are articulation agreements, then your son will know which standards he can meet in order to have a “safety” school lined up … one that will not judge him based on his earlier expulsion. (However, your son does need to disclose the expulsion to the transfer counselor in order to make sure that the articulation agreement doesn’t exclude candidates with ethics violations on their record, even if the violation came from another institution.)

–Your son’s applications should include a statement from him explaining what he did that got him expelled, what led him to this, what he’s learned from the episode, and why he is certain it won’t happen again.

–Assuming that your son was–or still is–being treated for his depression and stress, he should submit a recommendation from his therapist attesting to his improvement and possibly outlining an ongoing treatment plan, if there is one.

–Your son should try to build a relationship (or several) with professors at his two-year school so that these teachers can then write references for him that specifically attest to his academic integrity. It would be wise (albeit uncomfortable) for your son to confide in these professors, explaining his past problem and making it clear that it is behind him. Your son may even want to bend over backwards to prove to these new profs that his bad behavior is history. For instance, if his egregious violation was plagiarism, he could work with his new professors to hone in on and develop paper or research topics and then meet with the professors periodically to discuss his own ideas and his research techniques in a way that proves that, this time, his work is original.

–Don’t rush. It may take your son more than a summer and fall to complete his AA without pressure. Unless he can finish up easily by December, it may be wiser to encourage him to stretch it out through next spring. This could alleviate some of the stress and also allow him extra time to build the aforementioned relationships with faculty members. Moreover, he might have an easier transition to a new four-year university if he starts in the fall rather than at mid-year. Although I suspect that your son is anxious to get back on the track of what he views as his “normal” life, and although I’m sure you want this too, don’t be overly hasty. You could be turning up the heat in the pressure cooker yet again.

Finally, try to look for silver linings. I see at least one. When my own son, a high school junior, was inducted into the National Honor Society this spring, the keynote speaker was his AP Stats teacher whose talk was about making mistakes. She candidly revealed some of the biggies in her own life and emphasized that the true mistake is not the making of errors but the inability to learn from them. She told the parents in the room that, by allowing their sons and daughters to make mistakes now and to rebound from them, they will be helping these children to be more happy and successful later on.

So this whole debacle should be a learning experience for your son, and, as awful as it may feel at the moment, try to view it as a stepping stone to a more productive, informed future than he might have had without it.

Best of luck to you … you may need it along the way.

(posted 6/6/2014)