How to Explain High School Disciplinary Records


Disciplinary or legal issues on your high school record can be navigated a variety of ways. These past infractions — we're talking suspension, not just detention — can be used as an opportunity to show that you are responsible and mature if you treat the issue with transparency in your college application. Acknowledging these mistakes on your own is the best route to take — hiding a past infraction from an admissions officer is not a great choice when the information will only show up on your high school transcript later on, meaning they'll see it whether you choose to disclose the information or not.

With that said, don't think of it as an automatic detractor on your application. Instead, think of how you can frame it in a way that showcases who you are now rather than who you were then.

Don't Get Defensive

Your primary essay will most likely give you the opportunity to explain yourself in writing, but any supporting questions on the school's application can offer the chance as well. You may even choose to speak to it in your college interview (or a combination of all of these). Regardless of how the subject comes up, avoid making excuses or sounding defensive. Instead, focus on what has changed since that incident. How have you grown since then? What did you learn from the experience? (Spoiler: “I learned not to get caught" is not a strong message to go with here.) It's perfectly okay for you to go into the application process thinking of these hiccups on your record as opportunities to show your maturity and capacity for learning from mistakes; they don't have to be seen as liabilities.

Seek Outside Advice and Feedback

Whether you plan to write or speak about any issues in your past, you will need a few practice rounds to get the information framed in the right light. You should get feedback on any college essay you need to write from someone you trust, but it is a great idea to work with your guidance counselor on the best context for disciplinary issues on your application as well. An even better idea can be to write out a couple of drafts and to go over talking points with your counselor while you're preparing for your admissions interview (even if interviews are optional for admission to your dream school, this is a case where making a personal connection can really help you).

If there are any exceptional cases, a college might contact your school for more details on the situation, so you want to be sure that you and your counselor are aligned on the circumstances and outcome of any disciplinary action. This advice also applies if you want to address inconsistent grades.

The key is to remember that, wherever you end up applying, any information will be reflected in your high school transcript anyway, but there are always ways to frame that information in a way that puts the spotlight on how you grew from the situation more than anything else.