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Articles / Applying to College / How Will Suspension for Drinking on School Trip Affect Accepted Student?

May 18, 2020

How Will Suspension for Drinking on School Trip Affect Accepted Student?

Question: My son has already been accepted to his college of choice. However, very recently on a school trip, he and 11 others were nailed for alcohol use and consequently suspended for 3 days. In his particular case, he admits to drinking a little, but then distanced himself from the situation. Must his high school report this? Will his college withdraw the acceptance? Thank you. We are agonizing about this.

It seems that I have answered this question many times over ... especially this spring. I don't know if there's a new epidemic of teenage misbehavior in progress or if there are simply more crackdowns than there used to be.


So, if it gives you any consolation, you are not alone. And perhaps the very epidemic nature of these infractions could work in your favor because colleges must be accustomed to them by now and certainly don't want to rescind multiple offers of admission this month.

Unfortunately, however, all I can tell you at this point is that you need to speak to your son's school officials to ask them how they will handle the situation. Although such suspensions are usually reported on the final school transcript, which your son's college will receive, not all high schools choose to disclose disciplinary actions, even though the colleges do expect to receive such information. And some high schools will report it immediately .... not waiting for the end-of-year transcript.

So, first, you have to talk to your son's guidance counselor or principal (or whatever other administrator is the point person here) and ask if this will be disclosed to colleges. If the answer is yes, then you should also ask for specifics. Will the high school report say something like, "This is a good kid who got caught up in the excitement of a school trip and used poor judgment for the first time we've ever seen him do so," or will it be more like, "These students were told clearly that we have a zero-tolerance policy, which they flagrantly chose to ignore. Then they lied to cover-up their violation."

The spin that the school puts on the report could have an impact on how the college decides to proceed. Moreover, some colleges are more liberal when it comes to these sorts of things than others. So the outcome depends not only on the high school's reporting policy--which varies from school to school--but also on the college's policy, which also varies.

I imagine it's tempting to not talk to school officials about how--or if--they will report this to colleges, for fear that you may be "reminding" them to do so. But, trust me, that won't be the case. And, should you stick your head in the sand, then your son won't take the next important step.

If the school is reporting the suspension, your son must write a letter to the college explaining what he did. His letter should be contrite, accepting blame for his actions--not shifting it to classmates--and it should emphasize what he learned from the episode. He should also emphasize that he isn't a habitual user of alcohol (if this is indeed true. If not, then he should seek help for a problem that will only get worse in college if it exists already). If his record is clean until now and if his apology is convincing, he may be off the hook, but it really depends on the college in question.

I do empathize with your agony. The only silver lining is that it could be worse. Most colleges put senior drinking under the "Youthful Foibles" rubric (especially when a large group was involved, as happened here) while other offenses (e.g., cheating, bullying) cast aspersion on the applicant's character and are usually treated more harshly.

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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