Darlington School Blog

Darlington School
Sam Moss ’63
Dean of College Guidance

Sam Moss ('63) has been a member of Darlington's faculty since 1982, and currently serves as dean of college guidance, chairman of the college advisors, English teacher and president of the Cum Laude Society. Following his graduation from Darlington in 1963, Sam earned a B.A. from the University of the South (Tenn.) and an M.A.T. from Jacksonville University (Fla.) before completing additional study at Oxford University in England. He serves on various admissions advisory boards throughout the Southeast, and has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, as president of the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling, and currently serves as advisor to the SACAC Board of Directors.

Discipline and the College Admissions Process

9/16/2010 2:31:00 PM, 1,483 views

There is a common misconception that whenever a student is involved in a disciplinary or honor violation, that the infraction is noted on Darlington’s “permanent record.” That is certainly not the case. Darlington’s permanent record contains only the student’s academic record and honors. Rather, the issue of reporting disciplinary and honor violations to colleges comes as the result of the fact that many – in fact, most – colleges require the student to disclose that information on the application. In many cases, they also ask the school to disclose any disciplinary or honor penalties.

Their reasons for doing so are essentially the same as why most professions, businesses, graduate programs and government service involve a background check. Colleges simply want to know about patterns of behavior in students whom they might invite to become members of their student bodies and live on their campuses. And, yes – it is true: certain serious disciplinary and honor offenses may – and sometimes do – cost students acceptances.

Colleges make admissions decisions based on many factors: the academic record; the rigor of the curriculum; standardized test scores; athletic, artistic and other extracurricular activities; community service; family connections to the college and the like. One of the most important factors for many colleges – especially highly selective ones –  is the issue of character, which includes conduct.

Colleges deal with thousands of teenagers every day. They understand that teenagers make mistakes – and grow and learn from those mistakes. They know how to put those mistakes in perspective when evaluating a student. They concern themselves with the seriousness, frequency and pattern of behavioral issues during the student’s high school career. Especially in light of recent violent events, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, colleges want to know everything that they can about student behavior so that they can differentiate properly between “youthful indiscretion” and real potential for harm or danger on their campuses.

Most of the questions on college applications regarding disciplinary and honor infractions are now extremely detailed. This comes as the result of the fact that many students, parents and secondary schools have often tried to get around answering the questions by changing words like “probation” to words such as “detention” or “warning.” As a result, colleges now are asking much more specific questions, expecting students to answer them honestly, and requiring an Honor Statement that all information provided is correct. One prominent college application even now asks questions about such penalties as detentions, tardies and dress code violations. It doesn’t matter how we label infractions, colleges want to know about behavior.

Trust among students, colleges and secondary schools in the admissions process is critical. One of Darlington’s greatest assets in helping students throughout its history has been its credibility with colleges. They trust our judgment and evaluations in recommending students to their institutions. That credibility is dependent on both students and the School responding honestly to the college’s request for certain information. Not to do so would certainly undermine Darlington’s credibility and hurt our ability to help future students. If we don’t have credibility at the college, then our students will certainly not be well-served.

More important than anything else, though, is the fact that being honest is simply the right thing to do. Darlington’s motto reads “Honor Above Everything.” Like most colleges and independent schools in this country, Darlington is also a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. It is critical that we follow scrupulously the standards for professional ethics set out by that Association. In being completely honest and transparent with colleges, we all ultimately serve our students best.

Please know that we understand that students make mistakes. Helping them learn and grow from those mistakes is part of what we do as educators every day. Assisting them in discussing those mistakes, when necessary, in the college admission process is an important part of our responsibility to them and to their parents. Rest assured that at all times and in everything we do in the college admission process, we have the students’ best interests at heart. After all, our goal is to help them get to college – not prevent them from doing so.

Both Ivy Brewer and I – or any of the college advisors – will be happy to answer any questions or concerns that you may have about these issues at any time.

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Susan Stoffko
7:03 AM
Thank you for your honest disclosure and prompt delivery of "teaching moments". Our children need to observe good examples of those in charge, taking their role as leaders seriously and acting swiftly.
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