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Articles / Applying to College / College experts discuss high school suspensions

June 23, 2010

College experts discuss high school suspensions

Welcome to the College Experts Roundtable at College Confidential. We pose challenging questions to top college admissions experts - college admissions officers, college counselors, and others. We think you'll enjoy the thought-provoking discussion that follows. In this installment, our experts speak out on:

Suspensions and Disciplinary Action

Among the many questions that fill the College Confidential "Ask the Dean" mailbox, there is one that shows up most often. Although the queries take different forms and focus on varied situations, the concerns behind them are much the same: "Help! I have a suspension or disciplinary action on my high school transcript. How will that affect my college-admission outcomes?"


In fact, this question is asked so frequently that, after our "Dean" had answered it for the gazillionth time (and you'll see one of those replies, below), we contacted real admission deans to find out how their colleges deal with the issue. As you read their responses, you'll see that there is life after screw-ups, even for elite-college aspirants, but that honesty about an infraction-and the lessons learned from it-is always the best policy. -Sally Rubenstone

Read our Roundtable Experts' comments:

Nanette H. Tarbouni, Director of Admissions, Washington University in St. Louis

To answer "yes" or not to the question regarding an incident of disciplinary action, suspension, expulsion or conviction of a crime is never easy for a college applicant to do. None of us likes to be reminded of our mistakes.

It is, however, one of the most important areas of honest communication in the entire application...

Pamela T. Horne, Assistant to the Provost for Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions, Michigan State University

I've handled "discipline and crime" questions at two different Big Ten universities, and here is how I advise applicants and their parents who are facing this issue now... Students and parents should be told that the student must be honest in responding to all questions on a given application. Our question is worded "have you ever..." which means that we do expect a "yes" response even for "expunged" suspensions...

Debra Shaver, Director of Admission, Smith College

The disciplinary question is not meant to find out all the "bad" things students have done. Colleges understand that students are people (just like admission officers), capable of making mistakes or bad judgments. We're not in the business of re-punishing students, either. We are, however, in the business of building a community. Most importantly, a community of scholars-but also a community that engages and interacts in a way that is respectful and honorable. This is what we're trying to determine through the disciplinary question...

Alyssa Sinclair, Assistant Director, and the Middlebury College admissions staff

"Have you ever been dismissed or suspended from a school? If so, please send a detailed explanation on a separate page with your application." This is a request made by Middlebury College to each applicant for admission, and many other colleges ask a similar question. For some students it is as easy as placing an "x" on the line indicating a negative response. For others, who must place their cursor in the space next to "Yes," this question looms large. Students with a blemish on their disciplinary record wonder how much an affirmative answer will influence the deliberations of the admissions committee...

Sally Rubenstone, Senior College Counselor and Contributing Editor, CollegeConfidential.com, and former Admission Counselor, Smith College.

Question:

I am a high school sophomore who recently got in a trouble. I violated my school's academic integrity policy and got a one-day suspension. I regret it a lot, and I won't behave like this again, but my parents are very concerned about my future. My counselor says that I have been a hard-working student, so the suspension will be deleted from my school record, if I don't get in any trouble by the end of the year. But college applications ask about suspensions. If I say yes, can I still go to a college if I make decent grades and don't cause any trouble during the rest of my high school years?

Reply: If it's any consolation (as in "misery loves company"), your question is one that "The Dean" encounters frequently. Clearly, there are many high school students out there, like you, who have gone astray just once and are eager to get back on track...

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