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)

Posted in College Admissions    

Advice for Applications After Gap Year

Question: I’m a senior in high school about to graduate. I got into almost every school I applied to but there weren’t any that really jumped out at me and in all the stress of indecission I decided to go to community college. I recently realized this isn’t for me and I want to go to a 4 year. I already rejected my acceptances and the decision date has passed. I’m considering just taking a gap year and getting right back into college after working during the year. Would I just reapply for the next year with my high school records? Also what are the chances of getting accepted after taking a gap year since it’s not like I’m deferring the acceptance I already have?

It sounds like you’re making some wise choices. If you’re not excited about any of the colleges that admitted you, it makes sense to take time off from school and consider other options.

When you are ready to apply to colleges, you would do so very much the same way you did the last time around … using your high school GPA, test scores, recommendations, etc.

However, you should definitely explain why you took the gap year and what you did during your months away from the classroom. You can use your primary application essay to do this or you can write a supplemental letter or essay, if you prefer.

You may also want to ask someone who met you during your gap year (e.g., an employer) to write an extra recommendation for you. In addition, you can retake standardized tests if you wish, but it definitely isn’t required.

Although most gap-year activities–unless they’re extraordinary–won’t do much to help an applicant to get into a college that he or she wasn’t qualified to attend straight from high school, admission officials do appreciate the fact that “gappers” are often more focused and mature than students who enroll right after 12th grade. So your gap year might help to give you at least a tiny boost when you apply to new colleges next fall.

However, if you think that you MAY want to start college in September after all, you can call the colleges that already admitted you to see if any of them still have a space for you. Although the reply deadline has passed, if these colleges are accepting any wait-listed applicants this month, they might consider giving a spot to you as well. Similarly, if during your gap year you realize that you want to attend one of the schools that already accepted you, you should contact the admission office there to see what your next steps should be. You may not have to submit a whole new application. Some colleges may tell you that just an update will be fine. Your acceptance at these places won’t be guaranteed, but your odds should be good.

Good luck, whatever you decide.

(posted 5/13/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    

Help for Girlfriend Reapplying to College After Hiatus

Question: My girlfriend was accepted to many different colleges, coming out of high school, going into the fall 2011 semester. She finally decided on one college and was all setup up to go, but she couldn’t afford the price of the dorms so she ended up not going. She tried attending the local junior college for a semester but didn’t like it and ended up dropping her classes. She has been working the whole time since high school and now has money saved up. How does she go about reapplying to a university?

If your girlfriend did not complete even one semester at the JC, she would reapply to college as a freshman, but she still must list the junior college on her application. She should explain to admission officials why she attended only briefly and then left, along with what she has been doing since. (If there’s no obvious place to include this, she can send a separate letter by email to each college she applies to or she can look for an “Additional Information” section on her applications.)

If your girlfriend earned SOME credit from the community college, she may have to apply as a transfer, but this will depend on both the amount of credit she earned and on the policies at the colleges on her list. (She might have to contact each one individually to find out if she should apply as a freshman or as a transfer, if she’s not sure. And these policies can vary from college to college.)

Whether she is applying as a freshman or a transfer, her applications will ask her if she ever previously applied to this college. If the answer is yes, then she must say so. She can also contact those colleges to which she previously applied to ask if she needs to re-send her transcript and test scores or if they still have that information on file.

SAT and ACT scores are good for five years. So if your girlfriend took these tests within that time frame, she does not need to take them again.

Applying to college after a break of a couple years really isn’t much different than applying straight from high school except that colleges will want to know what the applicant has been doing with the time since high school graduation. So, as I noted above, your girlfriend must explain what she has been up to. She should be sure include her short stint in the junior college and why she left as well as her job history and any other worthwhile pursuits she’s been involved with (sports, hobbies, family activities, volunteering, etc.). She will probably have to submit new teacher references, too, which might be a little tricky since she’s not in school right now. The colleges that she applied to two years ago probably did not save her old references, but she can ask if they did and, if so, if these will suffice.

It is likely that any college that accepted her previously will admit her again once she’s shown that she has spent this time earning money to afford college. She may also want to expand her college list so that it includes schools that could provide enough financial aid to make dorm life affordable, if she still would prefer to live in a dorm.

As your girlfriend goes through this process, she might find it a bit daunting. It’s daunting for almost everyone but perhaps more so for those who are not in school. So she shouldn’t hesitate to phone or email admission offices directly if she’s confused and needs assistance.

Good luck to her!

(posted 6/10/2013)

Posted in College Admissions    

My daughter wasn’t accepted anywhere!

Question: My daughter has applied to six different colleges and she has received five rejection letters. She scored very low on her SAT scores, and this maybe the reason why she has not gotten a letter of admission. My daughter is a bright student with good grades. What should we do next? It’s so disappointing, and costly.

I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s disappointing college results. This can be a very trying time for teenagers and their parents, but please take comfort in the fact that your daughter will still have options. The pain and frustration she’s feeling right now won’t last forever.

Many colleges will welcome a bright student with good grades, despite low test scores, so it sounds like your daughter didn’t get good counseling (sadly, very common these days) or perhaps she ignored the advice she did get. Some guidance counselors underestimate the role that SAT scores can play. At the more selective colleges, applicants often have similar course choices and grades, so test results may end up serving as a “tiebreaker.” Moreover, depending on what you mean by “very low,” it could be that your daughter’s test scores made admission committees worry that she might not be able to handle a demanding college workload.

In any case, if your daughter was admitted to one of her six colleges, then it does sound as if she has an option. This may not be her first-choice school, but since she did apply, it seems as if she should be willing to enroll. There are many posts on the College Confidential discussion forum from students who were forced to attend their “Safety School” but then who went on to thrive there.

It’s not clear to me, however, if she was actually admitted anywhere … or expects that she might yet be. You did say that she received five rejection letters out of six applications but has not gotten a letter of admission. So perhaps she is still waiting and could get good news soon.

If not, here are some next steps to consider:

1. You and your daughter should check out this very valuable list:

It’s the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 2013 “Space Availability Survey. The colleges on this roster are still accepting applications, even if their deadlines have long passed. Be sure to read the headings at the top of the page carefully so that you don’t confuse colleges that have room for freshmen with those that are only accepting transfers. If you need financial aid, be sure to check that column too in order to confirm that aid, as well as space, is also offered.

As you go through the list, you might want to cross-reference it with this one: It’s FairTest’s list of Test-optional colleges. For instance, you’ll find Juniata College in Pennsylvanaia—one of the Colleges that Change Lives—on BOTH lists. I urge you to check out this school right away.

2. Many of the less-selective colleges or “open admission colleges” (including two-year community colleges) have very late deadlines or no deadlines at all, so your daughter still has time to apply. Even if she’s not happy about taking this route, if she enrolls and does well she can transfer to a more selective school after a year or two … maybe even to one of those places that said “no” already. (Although colleges often ask for SAT scores from prospective transfers, they pay far more attention to the college grades than to the high school SAT’s.)

3. Your daughter might want to consider a gap year. Her time off can include working on improving her test scores and/or reapplying to different colleges, perhaps emphasizing those on the FairTest list. (If you want information on private counseling to help guide you through a new college search, let me know.) Even students who have been admitted to their top-choice colleges often find that a gap year can be a good way to take a break from academics, to explore varied interests, to travel or to earn money before returning to the classroom.

Again, while I’m sure that this is a difficult time for your family, you may find that it ends up in a meant-to-be kind of way. Your daughter could land at a college she loves, even if it wasn’t one where she initially applied.

(posted 5/12/2013)

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Buyer’s Remorse: Daughter Said Yes to the Wrong College

Question: It is 4 weeks before college starts and my daughter feels she has made a mistake in her college choice. She was very torn with her decision and we feel she is right. She made a choice based on what she felt we wanted and what would be better financially for us as a family, NOT the best choice for herself and her future career. The school she is set to go to does not even have the degree she has wanted to go into for forever! The school she should be going to did accept her and offer her a very nice scholarship based on her academic prowess. What do we do now! We have already said no to the university she really wants and yes to the one shes set to go to. HELP.

Your daughter should sprint to the nearest phone (probably as close by as her pocket or purse) and call the college she wants to attend.

She should first ask to speak to the staff member who oversees applicants from her high school. But, if that person isn’t available, she can talk to any other admission counselor who’s handy.

She needs to spell out her situation and ask if there might still be space for her in the freshman class, along with housing (if required) and financial aid.

Right about now, many colleges experience “summer melt”—that’s when enrolled students change their minds. So it’s very possible that a college that already said yes to your daughter might still have a spot for her. The housing and, especially, the money might be more problematic, but it can’t hurt for your daughter to try. She can explain that she chose another school that she thought would be mean a better price-tag for her parents but realizes now that she made a mistake … especially from the future-plans perspective.

If she is willing to enroll in the spring term, if need be, she should say this as well. The odds of a spot being available in January are even greater than in the fall, and she can take a “gap” semester–perhaps even earning some money to cover college costs–while she waits. It might not be ideal, but it beats heading off to a place she doesn’t want to be.

But if there’s no room (or money) for her at all in the coming year, she can either bite the bullet and go to the school she already selected, planning a transfer for fall 2013, or she can take a full gap year, reapply, and start as a freshman in September 2013.

But her first step is to make that phone call right away, or at least first-thing on Monday morning.

(posted 7/28/2012)

Posted in College Admissions    

Higher SAT’s now. Can I reapply to a school that said no?

Question: I was denied for the fall term due to my low SAT scores. Am I allowed to reapply if I get better scores? The college has rolling admissions.

Officially you cannot reapply to a college that has already rejected you outright, even if it’s a rolling-admissions school. But … if your new test scores are significantly higher (e.g., if they’ve gone from the bottom of that college’s typical admitted-student range to the top), and if your GPA is at or above the median, then it can’t hurt to take another shot, as long as you steel yourself for a second rejection.

If your plan has the support of your guidance counselor, your best bet might be to have him or her contact the college on your behalf and cite the new and improved SAT scores. Your counselor should also explain how much you want to go there and why it’s a great fit for you. If you’re willing to consider admission to a term other than fall (e.g., summer 2012, spring 2013), make sure your counselor mentions this as well.

If you don’t think it’s realistic to ask your counselor to go to bat for you, you can contact the college yourself. But, again, recognize that this is a long-shot. Admission folks don’t have the time or energy to revisit applications they’ve already turned down, so you should expect a grim and perhaps even cranky response … but, again, it can’t hurt to give it one more try.

However, if your SAT’s, albeit improved, are still below the college’s median range or if your grades are no great shakes either, then it’s time to move on and to get excited about whatever colleges will welcome you.

(posted 2/13/2012)

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Mid-Year Bucknell Transfer for Miami Frosh?

My daughter is currently a freshman at University of Miami. Her first choice was Bucknell University, where she was waitlisted. However, she never got off the wait list. She would like to reapply to Bucknell for Spring semester, but unfortunately she missed the November 1, 2011 deadline. Do you think the admissions office would still consider her for spring semester if she was to submit her application late, or would they frown upon it? Would it affect her chances of getting accepted for fall, 2012? Please let me know how to handle this. My daughter has a 4.0 gpa at University of Miami. She is extremely miserable. She loved Bucknell, and wants to be there. Can you please give me that proper advice.

Bucknell–like many highly selective colleges–discourages freshman transfers and usually only accepts them when there are extenuating circumstances. In fact, right on Bucknell’s Web site, you will see:

Except for unique cases, freshmen should not apply for mid-year admission; instead, these students should plan to complete their freshman years and seek sophomore admission to Bucknell.

So, given these instructions AND the fact that your daughter missed the transfer deadline, I think she should stick it out in Miami until the school year ends. If she continues to do well there academically, she should have a good shot at Bucknell for next fall. She would also be wise to use the months ahead to make a mark outside the classroom … i.e., she could pursue an extracurricular interest, a hobby, an internship, a research project, etc. that will add an extra dimension to her transfer application. She should also try to make the best of her current situation, even if it’s less than ideal. It’s still very early in the school year, and often it takes freshmen five or six months to adjust, not just two or three.

BUT … on the other hand, IF your daughter will NOT require financial aid to attend Bucknell, it won’t hurt her to go for broke. She should pick up the phone TODAY and call the transfer coordinator in the Bucknell admission office. She should explain succinctly that she realizes Bucknell does not normally take first-year transfers, which is why she has not officially applied. However, she can point out that she was waitlisted last spring, that Bucknell continues to be her first-choice college, and that she would be delighted to show up on short notice for the second semester and without requiring financial aid, should there be unanticipated attrition.

Her odds of getting the answer she wants are slim, but it won’t penalize her to ask, and at least she’ll put herself on the transfer counselor’s radar screen. But, if she does need financial aid, I recommend that she just sits tight for now. She can aim for the fall transfer date while she enjoys the Florida sunshine all winter.

(posted 11/3/2011)

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Applying Via Early Action, Early Decision and Rolling Admission — All at Once

Question: If I wanted to apply to a college that has Rolling Admissions, would I be restricted in applying Early Decision or Early Action to other colleges? Basically, could you apply to a college with Rolling Admissions and at the same time apply to a college Early Action and then, if both of those options are unsuccessful, apply Regular Decision?

Remember back in kindergarten when your teacher told you how important it was to follow directions? Well, you may need those skills more than ever as you trudge through the confusing college-admission maze. :(

If you are applying Early Action or Early Decision, you must locate a description of that option on the college’s Web site to see if any “restrictions” apply. Note that the policies at one college may not be the same as those at similar schools, so read those Web instructions well!

Typically, an Early Action application doesn’t prevent you from applying to another college via a non-binding Rolling Admission policy. Usually (but not always), you can also apply Early Action to other colleges concurrently. In most cases, you can apply to one college Early Decision, too (as long as you understand that you must accept the Early Decision spot, if it is offered).

BUT some Early Action colleges put restrictions on where else you can apply during the EA round. For example, colleges with “Single-Choice Early Action” prohibit you from applying elsewhere via Early Action or Early Decision (but exceptions can be made for public-university EA programs, so check Web sites carefully). However, you can apply elsewhere via non-binding rolling admission plans.

You may also encounter limitations such as those imposed by Boston College and Georgetown University that do allow Early Action applicants to apply elsewhere via Early Action but not via binding Early Decision.

So, to answer your question succinctly, you CAN apply via rolling admission and Early Action (or Early Decision) simultaneously. But if you are accepted at an Early Decision college, you are committed to attend (unless the financial aid offer you receive makes it impossible to do so. In that case, you can withdraw without penalty.)

If you are denied outright in the Early round (or via Rolling Admission) you cannot reapply. However, if you are deferred in the Early round, you will automatically be reconsidered with the Regular Decision applicant pool.

For more information on this confounding topic, check out “‘Early action’ isn’t always as simple as it looks” by independent counselor Nancy Griesemer.

Good luck to you as you navigate this maze.

(posted 10/3/2011)

Posted in College Admissions    

Big Loans, Safety School, or Gap Year?

Question: I didn’t get into the college of my dreams — shocking, I know. My dilemma is that I’m stuck between a rock, a hard place, and then something else insanely difficult, as well.

I currently have three options for next year:

1. I was accepted to Virginia Tech. Not my first choice or a place I think I would really fit in, but a good school nonetheless.

2. I was accepted to UCLA. One of my co-first choices, and pretty much the place I’ve been dreaming of since I was 12. But I’m an out-of-state student and they didn’t offer nearly enough money to cover everything I need.

3. A gap year. My biggest priority in life (even before getting a good job, a relationship, or making a million dollars) is to travel the world. I desperately want to volunteer abroad.

So what do I do? Go to the school I don’t really feel a connection to but I can afford, bite the bullet and take out more than $20k in loans for each year at the school of dreams, or somehow find an affordable gap year program and apply again next year?

This is all not to mention that I’m wait-listed at my other co-first choice school, William & Mary, so who knows how that will pan out.

I’m afraid of doing a gap and applying in 2012 only to fail again, but I’m also afraid of going the conventional route and forgetting all the dreams I had of doing my small part to make the world a better place.

What do I do?

As an old lady of nearly 60, I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to the “Dream School” concept. I’ve seen so many students who have NOT attended their true-love college (either because of rejection or cost) yet who have gone on to have wonderful undergraduate experiences and happy, college-loan-free lives. Sure, it seems unfair that some high school seniors can follow their heart while others must follow their wallet. But who said life would be fair, right?

So, if you’re talking $20K per year in loans to go to UCLA, I think you’re wise to take it off the table.

Here’s what I suggest instead:

1) Lobby hard to get into William and Mary. Follow the advice you’ll find in this other recent “Ask the Dean” column:

Pay particular attention to the part about stating clearly that you DEFINITELY WILL ENROLL if admitted from the waitlist.

2) Give some serious thought to the gap year, even if it means sending a deposit to Virginia Tech by the May 1 deadline, which you might ultimately lose.

Do keep in mind, however, that most of the time (although not always), a college that said “No” to you when you were a senior in high school will not accept you following a gap year. (Getting in as a transfer is more likely, but this also depends on the college. The Ivy League colleges, for instance, take very few transfers.)

So don’t pursue the gap year if your primary purpose would be to reapply to your top-choice college with the hope of getting news the next time around. BUT … if a central aim of your gap year would be to do some good in the world while you retool your college list, that’s a different story. Make sure that your new list includes colleges that excite you more than Virginia Tech does but also those which, unlike UCLA, will be affordable. (If you’re strong enough to be admitted to UCLA from out of state, then there are certainly lots of colleges that would welcome you with merit aid. Go back to the drawing board and consider what you like best about your “dream” school(s) and then find places that share some of those traits but where your profile puts you closer to the top of the applicant pool.) You can also find gap-year programs such as CityYear and Americorps that will actually pay you to participate, rather than those that cost many thousands to do “volunteer” work abroad.

My advice to all potential gap-year students is to be sure to have a specific plan in place before you commit for sure to the time off from school. But if you’re itching to make the world a better place, but you’re not so thrilled with your current college options, then it might make sense to do that gap year and to line up some new colleges that you can really get excited about for the fall of 2012.

(posted 4/10/2011)

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Investment Banking Studies After Flunking Out of Pre-Med Track?

Question: I flunked out of a college, while being on the pre-med track. I want to get back to college and go in the investment banking route. Is this a possibility?

You can certainly do this, but you will have to report your past record when reapplying to college. As much as you might like to start over with a “clean slate,” if you do not include your previous courses and grades in your applications, you run the risk of being expelled, should you first get admitted to a new college but your omission later surfaces.

Because of your weak start as a pre-med student, you are likely to find that you will not be accepted to many colleges that might have accepted you right out of high school, based on a good high school record. Yet there are definitely many places that will welcome you … lousy record and all. :)

You may want to use your essay, a supplemental letter, or the “Additional Information” section that you’ll find on most applications to explain why you think you did so poorly the first time around (and why you’re convinced you’ll do better in the future).

If you are indeed successful in your new classes, you will position yourself to transfer to a more selective school, should you decide that you wish to do so.

There are many people in your shoes … those who screwed up initially and came back stronger … so don’t feel that you have been permanently thwarted by past failures, but do try to determine what caused them in the first place so that you don’t repeat your old mistakes.

(posted 2/15/2011)

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