We Admit It! Committee deliberations can be fun, uplifting, inspiring. Getting to hear applicants’ stories and getting to craft the next incoming class is at the heart of what we do. It’s what we like best about our jobs. At other times, committee deliberations are challenging. They force us to ask the tough questions; questions for which we don’t always have an easy answer. In these instances we do our best to explore all sides of the question at hand and make the best decision we can based upon the information in front of us. Today’s Overheard in Committee topic compelled us to ask one of those more challenging questions.
Overheard in Committee Today: “Talk to me about the discipline.”
If a student acknowledges in the Common Application that they have been subject to disciplinary action either at the school or legal level, that information is front and center for us on that student’s file. In those instances, we ask what the infraction was, what the resulting punishment was and we explore the extent to which the applicant acknowledges that infraction and what they learned from it. Disciplinary actions come in all shapes and sizes: we’ve seen everything from violating a dress code to physical altercations to honor code violations. Some disciplinary actions are easy for us to forgive (having your cell phone out in class for example). Others require much more discussion and deliberation (repeat offenses and honor code violations for example). And that’s because when we admit a student we can’t think only of that student; we need to also consider that student’s classmates, hallmates, roommates, etc. How will that person’s presence impact other students and the greater W&M community as a whole?
Today we were discussing an applicant who had made a rather serious mistake early on in high school. The resulting punishment was also severe and rightly so (for confidentiality reasons we will not go into detail about the offense or the punishment received). In reviewing the applicant’s explanation of what transpired it was clear he was remorseful and had learned from that transgression. He had gone on to prove himself an exemplary student throughout the rest of high school. To be frank, if not for the disciplinary infraction, he would have been someone very easy to admit. What we had to decide was 1) whether we believed that the applicant learned something from what transpired, 2) whether he would be a good addition to the Tribe and 3) whether the positive attributes in his application were worth an offer of admission when compared to other applicants who had not had any disciplinary issues.
At the end of the day, we as a Committee, believe that high school students make poor decisions from time to time as young people are prone to do. We also believe that those poor decisions can be forces for positive change and opportunities for personal growth. When we see that growth occur, when we believe the transgression is one that will not be repeated in college, and when we think a proverbial second chance is warranted, we will grant one and admit that student. That was the case today. It was obvious that he had learned from his mistakes. His own words to that effect were echoed by his recommenders. He was not a habitual offender (he’d had a spotless record ever since the early transgression). He had gone on to be a really valued member of his school community, and we believe him to be a young man of good character. We do not see it as a risk to bring him into our community.
We write this blog to help ease the minds of those who have found themselves in a similar spot. It might feel like one mistake can cost you your future. And in some cases, a disciplinary action may be a reason we decide not to admit someone. But in other cases, it’s not something that has to follow you for the rest of your life. What’s important though is what you learn from the mistake. In the end high school and college are times of growth, both academic and personal. That’s something that’s always in the back of our minds as we build incoming classes. We ponder how students we are admitting will help to improve themselves and their fellow students during their four years at W&M. To us, that’s what building a diverse, talented, intellectual, eccentric, interesting, vibrant, dynamic, thoughtful, quirky community is all about. That’s how we build the Tribe.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
PS: For those of you anxious about a decision release, as we posted in a response to a comment on our previous blog, we WILL NOT release decisions over the holidays. Following the break we will complete our Early Decision process and prepare for a decision release. Please refer to our blog from March regarding “the most asked question.” While the dates and timeline are applicable to regular decision, the heart of the content applies to Early Decision. We appreciate everyone’s patience. We believe our early December timeline for a release is still on target.