How to Address Your Disciplinary History on a College Application

You may find yourself grappling with the urge to simply check the “No” box under the dreaded question about disciplinary violations on your college application. It’s tempting to wish away that one regrettable incident from high school, to pretend it never happened. But denial is just the first stage of grief, and it’s crucial to move beyond it and face the situation head-on.

The question posed on the Common App is direct: “Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution you have attended from the 9th grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include, but are not limited to: probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution.”

It’s a tough question, especially if you have a blemish on your record. But confronting it with honesty and integrity is essential. Let’s explore how you can navigate this challenge proactively and positively to minimize its impact on your college admissions journey.

What Disciplinary Infractions Must Be Reported?

If you have committed a relatively serious offense such as cheating, possession of controlled substances, fighting, stealing, or school-related cyber-misconduct, and subsequently faced significant disciplinary action like out-of-school suspension or expulsion, these incidents generally need to be disclosed on your college application.

Understanding the Reporting Criteria

It’s crucial to recognize the severity of the offense and the resulting consequences when determining whether to report it on your application. Seek guidance from your counselor if you’re unsure about whether a specific incident should be disclosed.

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What Disciplinary Infractions Do Not Require Reporting?

Minor infractions, such as receiving detentions for tardiness, minor disruptions, or using inappropriate language, are unlikely to warrant reporting on your college application. These include incidents like cursing in 9th grade, minor altercations, or insignificant rule violations that did not result in significant disciplinary action.

Middle School Incidents

Remember that the Common App specifically requests information regarding events that occurred in grades 9 through 12. Incidents from middle school typically do not need to be disclosed on your college application.

Consultation with Counselors

When in doubt, it’s always advisable to consult with your school counselor to determine the appropriate course of action regarding reporting disciplinary infractions on your college application. They can provide valuable insight and guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

Why Lying on Your College Application is Never an Option

In light of recent college admissions scandals, it’s crucial to emphasize that dishonesty on your college application, especially regarding disciplinary history, is a grave mistake. Just as the infamous USC crew team scandal highlighted the consequences of falsifying information, any attempt to deceive colleges about your background can lead to severe repercussions.

The Harvard Case: A Sobering Example

A notable case from 1995 involving Harvard University underscores the importance of honesty. Despite being admitted, a student’s application was rescinded after it was discovered that she had omitted her previous conviction for murdering her mother. Harvard’s decision to revoke her acceptance was not due to the crime itself but because of the dishonesty on her application. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of lying during the college admissions process.

Honest Communication with Counselors is Key

Instead of resorting to falsehoods, it’s imperative to have open and honest discussions with your school counselor. Collaborating with your counselor to address any disciplinary issues transparently and ethically is not only the right thing to do but also the smartest approach. Your counselor can provide valuable guidance on whether and how to disclose disciplinary incidents on your college application.

Navigating Gray Areas

The policies regarding the disclosure of disciplinary information vary among high schools and colleges. If you’re unsure about how to handle a disciplinary incident on your application, consulting with your counselor can help clarify the best course of action. By working together with your counselor to develop a truthful and responsible approach, you can avoid potential consequences in the future.

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Illustrating Growth and Maturity in Your College Application

In the words of Pete Rose, “If somebody is gracious enough to give me a second chance, I won’t need a third.” While Rose himself may still be awaiting that second chance, his sentiment resonates deeply with the essence of what you should convey in your college application. It’s about acknowledging past mistakes, demonstrating personal growth, and committing to a path of continuous improvement.

Learning from Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes—it’s an inevitable part of life. What matters most is how we respond to those mistakes. In your college application, take the opportunity to reflect on any past missteps and the valuable lessons you’ve gleaned from them. Admissions officers appreciate candidates who show humility, self-awareness, and a willingness to learn from their experiences.

Embracing Growth

Highlight moments in your life where you faced challenges, setbacks, or obstacles, and discuss how you navigated through them. Whether it’s overcoming academic difficulties, resolving conflicts with peers, or rebounding from personal setbacks, emphasize the growth and resilience you’ve exhibited along the way. Admissions committees value candidates who demonstrate a capacity for introspection and personal development.

Committing to Improvement

Ultimately, your college application should convey a sense of forward momentum and a commitment to personal betterment. Express your aspirations for the future and outline concrete steps you’re taking to achieve your goals. Whether it’s pursuing academic interests, engaging in extracurricular activities, or contributing to your community, demonstrate your proactive approach to self-improvement and positive change.

Navigating the Varying Policies on Disciplinary History

In the labyrinth of college admissions, the treatment of an applicant’s disciplinary history is a maze with diverging paths. Unlike the uniformity in academic standards, colleges showcase a spectrum of approaches when it comes to this sensitive aspect of an applicant’s profile.

Diverse College Policies

Across the landscape of higher education, there’s a stark division regarding the scrutiny of disciplinary records. Approximately half of the institutions using the Common Application opt to suppress this section entirely. Surprisingly, while 73% of American colleges collect disciplinary data, only about a quarter have formal written policies governing its evaluation.

Wesleyan University’s Approach

Take, for instance, Wesleyan University’s stance, which embodies a nuanced perspective. At Wesleyan, the disciplinary history of an applicant remains concealed unless they’ve already received a favorable initial review. Only during serious consideration for admission does the university delve into this aspect, aiming to fairly assess its implications on the applicant’s readiness to contribute to the Wesleyan community.


The treatment of disciplinary history emerges as a complex and multifaceted aspect. As institutions adopt diverse approaches, ranging from suppression to meticulous evaluation, applicants find themselves traversing through a landscape of uncertainty.

Yet, amidst this diversity, a common thread emerges: the significance of understanding and navigating institutional policies with clarity and foresight. By equipping themselves with knowledge about how colleges approach disciplinary history, applicants can navigate this aspect of their profile with confidence and strategic insight.

Ultimately, in the dynamic journey towards higher education, awareness of these nuances empowers applicants to navigate the admissions process with wisdom and resilience, ensuring that they present themselves authentically and effectively to their chosen institutions.