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Articles / Applying to College / Must I Report An Underage Drinking Charge on Applications?

May 28, 2018

Must I Report An Underage Drinking Charge on Applications?

Must I Report An Underage Drinking Charge on Applications?
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I just finished my first year of community college and I'm filling out a transfer application for a college that has spaces available for incoming transfers. One of the questions is whether I have been charged with a crime. I was given a citation for underage drinking last year. I did a class (three sessions) and paid a fine, so the charge will be off my record next January. At the moment it's still on there, but I don't know if I was actually "charged" with the crime. How do I answer this on my application?

For application purposes, your “citation" should be considered a “crime" but it should not have any negative impact on your transfer chances unless the college you are considering is extremely religious and/or conservative (and, even then, this is not an automatic deal-breaker).


You should check the “yes" box on the application and then provide an explanation of this infraction, using the “Additional Information" section of your application or a separate email. In this explanation you should ...

1. Briefly describe the circumstances of your misdeed and the punishment you received. You should also note that the charge will be expunged from your record in January if you behave appropriately, just as you pointed out in your query here.

2. Accept responsibility for the violation. Statements like, “It wasn't really my fault; my friends made me do it" won't work in your favor. However, if you truly were accused unfairly (possible but uncommon), it's okay to explain. (“A group of students went to party near campus and there was alcohol. The crowd got noisy, police were called and arrested everyone who was at the party that night, including those of us who were minors but not drinking.")

3. Explain what you learned from the incident and how it will affect your future behavior. “I will never ever drink again" will probably come off as sounding disingenuous, but it's reasonable to say something like the following: “I have not been in trouble before and this episode was very frightening. I know that, because of my poor judgment, I violated my parents' trust in me, and I disappointed myself as well. I am sure that I will behave more responsibly and with greater forethought from now on, and I will be a productive and law-abiding member of your campus community."

Some students in your situation would not report the arrest and could very possibly get away with it. But, by being honest in your applications, you may actually sway admission officials in your favor because they will appreciate your candor. This will also prevent any potential problems that might arise should an unreported violation later come to light (not likely, but not impossible either).

An underage drinking charge is typically a “misdemeanor" and not a “felony." The latter can affect financial aid eligibility, but a misdemeanor will not. However, because the application asks if you have been “charged" with a crime and not if you've been “convicted," you need to come clean.

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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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