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HOCO Warning: Stop, Think, Avoid

Every year there are specifically two school events that leave any caring college counselor or consultant gasping for air come Monday morning: homecoming weekend and prom weekend. Why? It's because we're just holding our breath and praying that our students don't do anything so stupid that it would warrant a school suspension, or even worse, a school expulsion. Before you keep scrolling thinking it'll never happen to you, heed this fair warning that these lapses in judgment can happen to the best of students. There are consequences to stupid actions, ones that can spill over into your future college applications, and even result in rescinded offers to schools where you've already been accepted.

What we're trying to avoid is answering "Yes" to the following Common Application question:

And, if you have the regrettable, but not future-ending, situation of having to answer "Yes" to this question, then you're faced with the following additional essay:

Fun times, fun times! In my experience, the small number of my student clients who have found themselves in these unfortunate situations came about over homecoming or prom weekend. Really, however, this should be on the minds of all students, every day of your high school career. Simply: Stop, Think, Avoid!


Keep your wits about you, students! Don't do ANYTHING illegal, and that includes underage drinking. Even if you don't do it on school property, there are chaperones that will smell it on your breath. Once they gather you all and herd you to the office, there's no going back. So, PLEASE, although you are teenagers, try not to be so impulsive. You MUST STOP yourself from any situation that you know is wrong. If you don't think you have the impulse control or feel you'd cave under peer pressure, then DON'T do any pre-party stuff. Go directly to the event, then GO HOME! Your future will thank you!


You are in training to become an adult. You need to begin thinking like one. That usually means thinking BEFORE doing. It usually means laying out all the resulting scenarios BEFORE acting. It also means having to make difficult decisions that don't satisfy you immediately but act more as an investment to future satisfaction instead. If you need a reminder of where you're headed or what you're working so hard for, have your phone's wallpaper be a pic of your dream school, that cottage on the lake you'll get one day, or whatever that goal is for you. It'll make you think about the bigger picture, and hopefully help you make wiser decisions.


You've got to be honest with yourself. If you don't think you have the capacity to ignore the temptations that lurk, take yourself out of the situation and avoid it altogether. I'm not asking you to miss your homecoming. But do it in a way where you have a safety net. Have a good friend hold you accountable for that evening. Don't go to the pre-party, and don't go to the after-party. Have a good time at the dance, leave, and go home. Schools will still hold their students accountable for bad behavior regardless of whether or not it happened on school property!

I Saw This Post Too Late, and It Happened to Me

First, let me say to you that this isn't the end of the world. We're all human, we all make mistakes, and especially for you teens, you're all still learning and growing. The past can't be changed, so I always advise not lamenting the "what ifs" and moving forward with dealing with the situation in terms of college applications. Since it is HOCO season, I'll only offer advice on school disciplinary history, not a rescinded offer from a college. We'll revisit that come prom season.

If I had a dime for every kid in this situation over the past 18 years of College Driven, well, I'd have about 60 cents. Yes, that's a small number, but it's not ZERO! So, yes, this does happen, and as mentioned, it happens to really great and smart kids. The way I approach this situation is to offer a no-judgement-zone. That's first and foremost. What follows, is what I advise in working through the college application disciplinary question if you have to answer with a "Yes".

  1. Speak with the school first and find out how this incident will be played out on your permanent record and shared with colleges. Will it be on your transcript? Will it be in the counselor's recommendation? How will it be conveyed? As a student and parent, you have every right to get this portion clarified.

  2. You only have 250 words to explain what happened. Don't dwell on the details. Your first sentence should convey what happened and the consequences of your actions.

  3. The rest of the writing should ALWAYS be written in a way that shows your remorse and regret! TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! Give no excuses for your actions. Don't make it seem like you're sorry because you got caught.

  4. Finally, conclude with what you learned from the experience. Concluding in this way is important in the way you approach it. Be careful not to sound like a cliche. "I'll never do it again" is a juvenile answer. You're going to have to go deeper.

  5. And, just drop it! Don't run the rumor mill of your own life. Don't talk about it anymore with friends. I'm dating myself, but in the words of REOSpeedwagon, "Talk is cheap when the story is good..." Control the gossip and drop the conversation.

My clients who have had this happen to them have ended up at wonderful colleges that were on their best-fit list. Not every college welcomed them with open arms, but that's why there are several colleges where you would thrive and you apply to those. College reps are also human. Many have an empathetic heart and remember what it was like to be your age. Don't think one wrong move ruins your future, but be sure you learn from the experience.

Better yet, let's try to Stop, Think, and Avoid altogether!

Have a fun and safe HOCO!

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