Uh oh… You Goofed; How to Report Disciplinary Actions to Colleges

Perhaps in 9th grade you skipped a class. Or, as a junior you were involved in a more serious offense. Colleges do ask you to disclose disciplinary actions during the college application process. In this blog, we will offer some pointers.

For the most part this is genuinely a case by case basis that should be discussed by the student, their parents and their college counselor. But for the purposes of this blog, we will outline some general tips that can possibly help some people.

On the Common Application, the question is posed as follows:  “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.”

Now, I’m guessing the question on every student (and parent’s) mind is… “Please tell me I don’t have to report; do I?” Well, there are some situations you generally do not need to report, such as, but not limited to: your teacher writing your name on the board, a detention after school for talking during class, being late to class, or fighting with a teacher over a grade. Typically, high schools have punishments ranging from a hearty warning, to an official detention, to a suspension, to an expulsion. The latter two are what must be reported according to the wording on the Common App, but very minor offenses, not likely.


  1. You can not lie. This can come back to bite you, hard. If a college finds out from your high school that there was in fact serious disciplinary action that you did not report, they have the right to rescind an admission acceptance.
  2. Keep the paragraph short and sweet. Be matter of fact about what happened. Don’t make it a very long essay.
  3. Provide details and context, particularly if it happened early in high school. If it never happened again, that shows it’s not a pattern, but a one-off mistake.
  4. Own it. Don’t blame anyone else. Keep the focus on what happened (perhaps you were pushed first), but keep the focus of the paragraph on your wrong actions (It was wrong to push back).
  5. Discuss what growth has occurred since this incident. What did you learn? What did you change?

The most important thing to do if you think you might need to address a disciplinary action on your applications is consult with your school counselor and your college counselor.

Over the 19 years I have been a college counselor, I have seen many students have to write this paragraph on their application. And I can’t think of a time that, when it was written this way, and clearly not a pattern, that a student wasn’t accepted to some of their colleges. But if you are an underclassman reading this, think twice before you get into a fight in the cafeteria or smoke pot in the parking lot… you WILL likely need to report these kinds of serious offenses to colleges. And I can’t promise it won’t make an impact.

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