We all make mistakes. And, unfortunately for some of us, those mistakes will be front and center for admissions committees to see. If you’ve ever been expelled or suspended, had a longer-than-generally-tolerated spate of bad grades…if your child has bitten, hit, or bullied other children frequently enough to be noted by school administrators, or has exhibited some other bad behavior that is bound to make its way on record, you’ve got some explaining to do. This posting explores how to handle unflattering information that will appear on your (or your child’s) application.
First and foremost, resist the urge to stick your head in the sand. Rule #1 of how to handle anything that might look bad is this: under no circumstances should you pretend that it doesn’t exist. The admissions committee knows that it does. You know that it does. Your dog or your mother or some other witness knows that it does. Now, buck up and get ready to face the music.
Sorry to be tough with you. I promise, this will end well (or at least better than it would have if you didn’t take this advice). That’s because ignoring your mistake would leave the admissions committee to draw their own conclusions about what could have possibly possessed you or your child to do [insert a description of your bad behavior]. But acknowledging your mistake gives you a chance to do two things: 1) humbly explain (not make excuses for) what led to the bad decision, and 2) proudly explain (with at least a bit of lingering humility) what you have done since to improve.
This aligns with a basic rule of public relations: own the story. If you want the admissions committee to see things your way, you have to be willing to communicate your point of view. By not addressing this, you are missing the opportunity to explain why a certain path and a certain school still make sense, despite something that has happened in the past. In some cases, it is because we have made a bad decision or had something bad happen to us that we are motivated to do, and be, better. As always, don’t be dishonest and pander to what you think the committee wants to hear. But, if you made a mistake, admit it, and show how you have grown.