As campus administrators worry about how to prevent violence like last spring’s Virginia Tech shootings, students applying to college increasingly face queries about their past behavior: Were they ever severely disciplined in high school? Have they been convicted of a crime? The Los Angeles Times says that although such questions were added to a widely used college application form months before the massacre at Virginia Tech, admissions officers say that the murders made them more vigilant about students’ personal troubles. They say that they won’t reject otherwise strong applicants because of one schoolyard fight or a beer arrest, but they may be wary of troubling patterns.
Critics contend that the form allows colleges to invade private matters better left to the law and high school counselors. The extra attention is raising anxiety among high school seniors. An Oregon teenager with a stellar academic record is petrified that colleges will learn about his conviction four years ago for shoplifting a shirt. Students are worried about the Common Application, a mainly online form shared by 315 schools, predominantly private ones. Last year, it began asking students — and their counselors — about any suspensions, dismissals or probationary terms because of academic or behavioral misconduct and whether students had been “convicted of a misdemeanor, felony or other crime.” A tiny fraction of applicants confessed. Of the 266,087 students who used the application last year, only 2.32 percent said they received school discipline, and only about 0.25 percent reported a conviction. The Common Application questions are “terrible, terrible policy,” said Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. He said the questions are not likely to catch the “next Jack the Ripper” but are more likely to harm “the perfectly ordinary mischievous kid without much utility in preventing the next tragedy.”