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Articles / Applying to College / Can We Hide Past College Failures from Admissions Committees?

Sept. 17, 2009

Can We Hide Past College Failures from Admissions Committees?

Question: My child graduated in 2007 and signed up for some courses at a junior college. Due to some personal issues with a disabled parent, she never started the classes nor dropped them. The college she's interested in now says she needs to take some courses this year at the JC and so all the previous courses she had signed up for will be included in that average, which will make it next to impossible to get her GPA to where it is required for a transfer student. I know it isn't being honest, but how would the college know if we didn't provide a college transcript to them and attempted to enroll her as a freshman? I'm asking because I really don't want to ruin her chances for ever getting in.

"The Dean" often receives questions like this one from students (or parents) who want to make a clean start after some previous college debacle. My answer is always the same. Don't do it! Tempting as it will be, your daughter should NOT hide her past failures. . She can get in big trouble with this approach. All applications ask if your daughter has ever attended college elsewhere, and if she denies it and is caught--even a few years later, after she's enrolled and done well--she could face expulsion.


Sure, she may NOT get caught. But it's a risk I advise against. (In particular, if she is applying for financial aid, it ups the odds that her past matriculation will come to light.) Instead, she should explain her predicament, citing the family pressures that were on her at the time that she enrolled in classes that she subsequently didn't finish. Admission officials are usually sympathetic to students who want to make a fresh start. But the best way to begin with a truly clean slate is to first own up to the past. Most colleges that admit transfer students will be flexible about the required GPA. In other words, if your daughter's "official" GPA is low due to the false start, then the transfer-school officials will recalculate a second GPA based on the classes she really DID take. If the officials at the college she wishes to attend refuse to do this, she should be able to find other schools that will. And, perhaps, in doing so, she will find a college that is better suited to her overall.

Good luck to your daughter. I hope this works out for her.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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