Long-needed Change Made to Common App

Finally, the Common App announced in September that it will no longer include a question about the high school disciplinary history of applicants.  That’s a pointless question that needed to go, since most high schools don’t report disciplinary histories to colleges.

Additionally, it’s one more issue that affects minority kids more than majority kids.

For example, after the 2018-19 admissions cycle, the Common App found that Common appof students who recorded disciplinary actions, more than 7,000 never submitted a single college application.  Among them, 52% were Black or Latino, almost double the 27% of all students using the App who are Black or Latino.

In other words, students were disqualifying themselves based on what they anticipated to be adverse treatment of their applications by admissions officials. Their concerns were justified. Many colleges consider disciplinary history as a factor in admissions. This information, in a highly competitive admissions decision, can be the difference between acceptance or rejection.

Individual colleges can continue to ask applicants such a question through their own application supplement, but it will be stricken from the App itself,

 What is the Common App?

The Common App is the organization that has developed and maintains the primary online platform through which high school students apply to colleges. Common appIt’s used by more than 900 colleges. In 2019-20, more than 1.1 million prospective college students used the App to submit over 5.5 million applications.

Since 2006, students applying to colleges via the App have been asked the following question:

“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.”

Students who answer “yes” are required to provide the dates of incidents, explain what happened, and “reflect” on what they learned from the experience.

In announcing the removal of the question, Common App’s CEO, Jenny Rickard, said:

“We want our application to allow students to highlight their full potential. Requiring students to disclose disciplinary actions has a clear and profound adverse impact. Removing this question is the first step in a longer process to make college admissions more equitable. This is about taking a stand against practices that suppress college-going aspiration and overshadow potential.”

More Reasons for Eliminating the Question

Another factor that led to the Common App’s decision is that high schools have different rules for detention, suspension, expulsion, and the disciplinary information that will be reported to colleges. Should a student who receives a dress code suspension receive the same treatment in admissions as one accused of academic dishonesty? Obviously not, so the Common App decided that the only way to prevent such unfairness is by not asking the question at all.

Opponents of the use of high school disciplinary records in  admissions point out that this information has little predictive value, needlessly stigmatizes students for infractions that are often minor, and reduces opportunities for higher education.

The Release of Adverse Disciplinary Information

The fact that the Common App will no longer ask the question doesn’t mean that colleges can’t obtain information about your disciplinary record by other means. As noted above, a college will still be able to ask for your disciplinary record in an App supplement. It isn’t yet knowable which colleges or how many will do this, given that the App’s announcement was made only last month.

One would think that a college’s administration would be reluctant to ask the question since the primary motive behind its removal was racial fairness. If, as a potential applicant, you seek to avoid disclosure of this information to colleges, make sure that the schools to which you apply don’t ask for it in a supplemental questionnaire.

Another concern you’ll have relates to the standard practices of your high school guidance office. Even if you’ve avoided disclosure through your selection of colleges in 2018-19, nearly one-third of high schools disclosed disciplinary information as a standard component of their reports to colleges.

This practice is declining due to the concern about the unfairness to minorities described above, but it still exists. I recommend that you ask your guidance office about their standard reporting. If they engage in this practice, then advise them politely that you consider this information confidential and that you don’t grant them permission to release it unless they’re specifically asked for it by a college. Give them plenty of advance notice. Your high school may be reluctant to refuse your reasonable request on such a sensitive matter.0

For questions about the Common App and all aspects of college applications and admissions, or how the coronavirus is impacting college admissions. contact me at [email protected]

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