July 6, 2010
Question: My son Daniel was kicked out of college three years ago for a single punch to another man. Since then Daniel has gotten a job and has learned to control his anger. What he now wants more than anything is to go back and finish his education. Daniel is very intelligent and wants more than anything to become a chemical engineer. Do you have any advice for a parent trying to help their son fix his mistake and achieve his goals?
Daniel's expulsion will have some effect on his future college and career plans, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker by any means.
He should begin by approaching the college-admission process just like any other transfer student would. In other words, he should search for colleges that meet his academic and personal needs (e.g., size, location, extracurricular offerings). He must also try to identify schools where he will be admissible based on his college grades. (If he wasn't in college long enough to get at least a year's worth of grades, then his high school record will be considered. It will be considered to some extent anyway, but especially if he was only in college briefly.)
When filling out his applications, Daniel needs to be completely candid about his previous college experience and the event that ended it. He should explain what happened and accept responsibility for it. He should also explain what he has learned from that episode and how he has moved beyond it.
In addition to the letters of reference from professors and administrators that his applications may require, he should also include a couple unsolicited references from those who can attest to his current situation and success. These might come from an employer, a counselor or therapist, member of the clergy, etc.
If Daniel hopes to attend an extremely selective college ... one of those places that turns away far more students than they accept ... then his admission odds won't be good, even if his grades in high school and college were excellent. But there are plenty of respected colleges that will allow him a second chance if his application presents a strong case for his admission. (And if he does have a dream school, even an extremely competitive one, it certainly can't hurt to try.)
One area where he may be jeopardized is scholarships. Many colleges have fewer merit scholarships for transfers than for freshmen, and it is not likely that he will receive merit money given his track record. But, on the other hand, if he applies to colleges where his grades and test scores make him a top contender, he may still be in the running for merit money, if it is available. His past record will not affect his chances of getting need-based aid, if he qualifies based on income and assets (assuming that he was not convicted of a felony, and it doesn't sound like it). If he is over 24, he is eligible to apply for financial aid as an emancipated student (meaning that his own income but not his parents' will be considered in the aid formula).
Depending on how much college Daniel has already completed, how well he did, and where he most wants to enroll now, he might also want to consider taking a year or two of classes at a community college and then applying to an engineering program as a transfer. If he does very well at the CC, his past infraction will all but vanish when he applies to the four-year school. (But if he does decide to take this path, be sure to check with four-year engineering advisors to be certain that he takes the proper prerequisite classes at the CC.)
Bottom line: Although Daniel may find some bumps in the road, he can definitely achieve his goals despite the blemish on his record.
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