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How to Address Disciplinary Record for College Applications (Still Get Into Dream School)

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Everyone makes mistakes. Some larger than others and some get caught. This article will focus on disciplinary records, what actions to take when applying to colleges when you've been suspended, expelled, or even charged with a crime. I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to still get into your dream school if you follow these tips.

Slapgate - What is it?

So it’s been about a week since the infamous Will Smith Oscar’s slap on Chris Rock also known as Slapgate. I’m not going to talk too much about this topic since I’m sure most of you are over hearing about it, but for those who aren’t as familiar - Chris Rock made a joke about Will Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, which resulted in Chris getting slapped. There's a huge debate if Will was justified, but what we'll discuss today is how this incident relates to disciplinary action when applying to colleges.

Disciplinary Action Explanation

Suspension as a result of misconduct which is often times getting suspended or expelled from school. Some examples are: cheating, possession of a controlled substance, fighting, stealing, bullying, or anything that resulted in punishment.

Recent research suggests that approximately 80% of American colleges weigh disciplinary data when making admissions decisions so it's important to prepare thoughtfully to still get into your top choice schools.

Advice for College Applications

Talk to your high school guidance counselor: Only about half of high schools in America disclose disciplinary information to colleges. Check with your school if they plan to report your record as part of their report and if you should address the issue in the disciplinary section of your college applications. It is important that you and your counselor agree on a strategy so you are not surprised down the road.

Do NOT LIE and BE HONEST in your applications. Once you've decided with your counselor that you should check YES in the box of having a record in your applications, it's time to write a compelling explanation.

Let's take a look at Will Smith's apology that he posted on Instagram:

"Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.

I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.

I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.

I am a work in progress." - Will Smith

My Analysis on the Apology

Will Smith's apology was well structured and I would recommend when students are explaining their record to follow the same flow, but obviously more detailed since the Instagram post had limited characters. Here's the outline:

1. Take ownership - make sure you acknowledge and admit when you have done wrong.

2. Provide context - there are multiple sides to every story and colleges know that. Hence, there's a huge debate if Chris or Will was in the wrong. What matters here is your perspective, but ensure you are not blaming others and instead focusing on the facts around your actions and reflections.

3. Demonstrate growth - discuss what you learned from your actions, what you are going to take from this lesson, and how you will develop into a better version of yourself.

Life Advice

Surround yourself with friends who are good influences. Having a network around you who are ambitious, hardworking, and have a college going mindset is what you should strive for. Throughout life even beyond high school, it is important to have peers who will push you to be the best version of yourself to maximize your potential. When I work with students who have a record, they often are getting disciplined with an accomplice. Make sure to think critically about who you surround yourself with.

Success Story

I have a friend from high school named, Kunal Agarwal, who was expelled from our school for hacking into School Loop, a widely used academic platform. He wrote his personal statement discussing his record, shared context, and demonstrated growth (here's an article detailing how he handled the situation) and got into UC Berkeley majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He now has a successful career focused on cyber security which shows you can also turn a concerning situation to a positive learning lesson and still strive to be at your potential.

Author: Tiffany Phu, college and career services professional and owner of California College and Career Consulting.

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