Suspensions and Discipline:
Comments from Nanette H. Tarbouni
by Nanette H. Tarbouni
Director of Admissions
Washington University in St. Louis
To answer "yes" or not to the question regarding an incident of disciplinary action, suspension, expulsion or conviction of a crime is never easy for a college applicant to do. None of us likes to be reminded of our mistakes.
It is, however, one of the most important areas of honest communication in the entire application. To come forward with honesty and integrity, explain the circumstances and what lessons have been learned is absolutely critical. Admissions officers are people, too. We have made mistakes and errors in judgement. We were once college applicants ourselves.
We can understand the circumstances that lead to errors in judgement and many of them we can forgive. We need to be able to honestly assess the situation and the lessons learned in order to make the right decision for the student and for our college communities.
And here's another important point- if you don't tell us-I promise someone else will. There is always an eager student who wasn't admitted to same college or a parent of a student who will write to us anonymously and let us know of the infraction. Hiding these things is never the right choice.
Sometimes these things have happened well before the application is ever filled out; sometimes they occur after the paperwork is into the college admissions office. Always, always, always make sure you come clean with these issues-immediately after they have happened. Hiding it makes things much worse and college admissions officials are much less likely to be forgiving when there is an effort at covering up these mistakes.
I remember vividly a young man who made a silly mistake in the fall of his senior year. He attempted to come forward and take responsibility in his high school community and his parents told him not to. "Don't tell," they said, "it will hurt your chances of being admitted to college." As these things go, we did end up finding out-months later in the spring of his senior year. Not only was he suspended from school (if he had owned up earlier, it would have been two days), now the punishment was suspension for the last four weeks of high school. He was allowed to take his exams and graduate. After a very serious conversation with our judicial administrator and a behavioral contract, he was allowed to enroll. He graduated with an unblemished record and no further problems at all. I have often wondered if his parents learned their lesson.
We all make mistakes. It is the measure of who you are as a person in the way you take responsibility for yours and the lessons you learn.
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Nanette H. Tarbouni is the Director of Admissons at Washington University in St. Louis.