When you’ve worked in college admissions for two decades, you’ve heard it all! Oh, the stories I could share. Someone leaves a pocketknife in their backpack after a weekend on the trails: suspended. Another decided to smoke a little weed in his car in the school parking lot for breakfast: expelled. Another decided to moon the visiting dignitary at the school’s award banquet: no gold tassel at graduation for you. But perhaps the most common story I would hear went something like this…
“The group I was with at prom decided to go to Jimmy’s house for dinner before prom and his older brother had bought us some alcohol for the evening. We ended up taking it to the hotel ballroom where prom was held and then we all got caught for drinking underage in public. Am I going to lose my offer of admission?”
Before we get to the answer, let’s first address the real moral dilemma here.
Should you even notify the college you’re planning to attend?
What are the chances that they’ll find out anyway? Best to let sleeping dogs lie, or lay, or whatever, right?
Not so fast. There are a dozen reasons why you should own up to any, let’s say, indiscretions incurred in your senior year. Here are the top few:
1) Honesty is important. I should be able to stop here, but experience tells me otherwise.
2) Some high schools have a policy whereby they notify the college if any seniors planning to attend college are suspended, expelled, or otherwise reprimanded between the time they apply to college and the time they graduate. Do you know your school’s policy? If the school notifies the admissions office before you do, it looks very bad.
3) Many college applications have some fine print that you probably just skimmed over and then signed your name. That fine print usually says something such as, “I agree to notify Dreamschool University if my responses to the questions pertaining to my disciplinary record should change at any point during the matriculation process.” Did your application include such verbiage?
4) If it was a violation serious enough to result in arrest or criminal charges, you may have a record now. Some colleges run background checks for various reasons, including if you decide to pursue a job on campus. They could find out anyway. Also, it looks bad if the college finds out from someone else. Sometimes, if it’s bad enough and you didn’t disclose it before attending, they can yank you right out class in the middle of the semester… and keep your tuition.
RELATED: Safe and Sober Prom
5) However, the biggest reason you should go ahead and own up to any “poor choices,” is because of MOMS. I’m not sure why it’s always the moms and not the dads. Incidentally, I’m not talking about the mom of the renegade student. Generally it’s another mom whose son/daughter has been wronged by said delinquent student or a mom whose son/daughter was not offered admission. (These calls are the best.) “I can’t believe you offered admission to <obvious delinquent> who was drunk at prom and you didn’t offer admission to <angel.> Did you know….?” Again, see number #2: It looks bad if the college finds out from someone else and hell hath no fury like the mom of a scorned teenager.
So yes, you should tell.
Having said that, you should carefully craft the letter you send notifying the college of your misbehavior. Be honest and tell the whole truth. I know you didn’t just take “one sip of champagne and the teacher smelled it on [your] breath.” Take ownership. Don’t blame it on your date or Jimmy’s older brother or anyone but yourself. Be humble. Recognize that the committee does, in fact, have extraordinary power over how you will spend the next year. Show growth. Spin it so that they can see that you’re using this an an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and that you’ll certainly not repeat the same poor choices at Dreamschool University.
So… Are you going to lose your offer of admission?
In my experience, a single alcohol violation at the school prom never resulted in an offer of admission being withdrawn. There were consequences: a strongly worded letter from the Dean of Admissions, a list of resources on campus to help you make a more mature transition to college, maybe even encouragement to seek counseling once on campus.
I’m not excusing the poor choice, nor am I condoning drinking underage. I’m certainly not encouraging teenagers to push the boundaries to see how far they can go before a college would take more drastic actions. What I’m saying is that teenagers sometimes make poor choices. This has been happening forever. At least a few of the people on the committee reading your humble letter of remorse probably also made some poor choices as teenagers. They’re real people and generally recognize that one poor choice should not result in the complete derailing of your plans.
Do the right thing.
Tell the truth. People generally respect honesty and integrity and maturity. I’m not promising there won’t be negative consequences. Depending on the severity of your infraction there might be proportionally severe consequences. But there’s a very good chance the consequences for infractions will be less severe than if you choose not to take ownership of the poor choice, and the college finds out from someone else at a later date.