Have a Disciplinary Record? Here’s What You Need to Know When Applying to College


It’s not the ideal situation. As you’re applying to college, you realize you’re going to have to disclose your disciplinary record at some point. Facing serious disciplinary action in high school is stressful on its own. Adding the thought that your future could be impacted only adds to the uncertainty. Luckily, failure leads to learning and growth. Read below for tips on how to approach the disciplinary record question.

What do you have to report?

Most colleges aren’t going to ask for the detention or tardiness record of students. In the case of applying to college, a discipline record usually is a suspension, expulsion, or criminal offense.

How does your record affect your chance of admission?

Not all disciplinary records are equal. Monikah Schuschu at CollegeVine notes that colleges “tend to care about certain types of offenses more than others.”

Your in-school detention isn’t going to raise any red flags. However, more serious offenses, like expulsion and/or criminal offenses, might cause admissions counselors to scrutinize or take a second glance at your application, as they are focused on “shaping a community.”

We’ll discuss in more detail below, but remember, “If you can thoughtfully discuss what happened and have clearly learned from your mistakes, that will be a point in your favor.”

1. Always be honest.

You’ve heard it before: omitting the truth is the same as lying. Think of it this way: the truth may be hard to explain, but being found out after omitting the truth will be even harder to explain. Chris Teare, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Drew University shares on Forbes: “If you get in trouble, own it.”

Never lie on an application about whether or not you’ve had serious disciplinary issues. Colleges are likely not as concerned about the in-school suspensions or detentions. Criminal offenses, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions will need to be reported.  

2. Show personal development.

On your application, after the disciplinary question, there is a space for you to include more information. Use this space as your opportunity to touch on some of the ways you’ve grown or improved after your experience. Along with the space after the record question, use the college essay as another opportunity to elaborate on your experiences and what you’ve overcome.

When you are writing a response to your essay, ask yourself: What did I learn from this experience? How did I overcome the challenge? How did I grow as a person? What will I do differently in college?

Spend some time reflecting. Allow yourself to move forward.

You’ve probably felt enough disappointment in yourself or your situation, and you’re tired of thinking about it. But, be kind to yourself and give yourself some space to think about how you would handle things differently. Self-awareness and learning from your mistakes are both important life skills that will make you a more resilient and successful college student.

If you need help with your college essay, take a look at our post about How to Answer the Common App Essays, or contact us for more information.   

Karonica Davidson