#071 School Discipline and College Admissions with Hanna Stotland transcript



Lisa Marker Robbins  01:06

Teams will be teens right. And sometimes that comes with some slip ups that result in disciplinary action, so that keep a team from realizing their college dreams. Paula, Scotland’s personal story includes flipping up, she flunked out of high school and later got her GED. And wait for it is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Yep, you heard me right. So yes, it is possible for college dreams to come true despite some missteps. For 24 years, Hana has served students facing the hardest college and law school admissions problem, including six varsity blues families, those emerging from prison, and a victim of the Sarah Lawrence call. She frequently serves as an expert witness in admissions related litigation, and is joining us to provide guidance for students who have a record from minor infractions to the major on how to navigate college admissions. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Welcome, hon, I’m so happy to have you,


Hanna Stotland  02:29

thank you so much for inviting me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:31

I know this will be like this is really for a niche family, who’s navigating some hard stuff. And when I mean, I have three kids that are now in their 20s. And when our kids slip up, and when they’re hurting, we’re hurting. And honestly, I think what you have to deliver even though it’s a hard topic, it’s inspiring, and it gives hope. Well, thank you.


Hanna Stotland  02:52

That’s how I feel about it. I always have surprises. I mean, it’s never a surprise that students will slip up along the way. We all make terrible mistakes as human beings. And then when we are young, inexperienced, those are necessarily going to be different and sometimes more foolish, more naive mistakes than adults make. But this is part of the process, and helping parents to balance taking this seriously, but at the same time not panicking and thinking, well, his career is over his education is over. Because of a curable problem. I think of myself a little bit like an oncologist. So you’re only in my office, because you’ve gotten some of the scariest news of your life. But most of the time, I’m able to say, Oh, this is treatable, you know, and very often, even though it’s scary, from my perspective, I can say, Look, this is stage one, I can cut it out in the office, and you know, you’ve got 50 years of healthy life ahead of you something else is going to kill you.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:57

Well, I think that’s a great example. Because there’s, as I said in the intro, there’s the minor all the way up to the major. So let’s maybe take a stage one stage two approach to this in can you give us some really good examples, the minor to the major and everything in between, like what would kind of qualify in those different categories?


Hanna Stotland  04:18

So a first offense of let’s say, having, using a forbidden resource during an online test, maybe the student looked at their phone or they looked at their textbook during a test, that would be level one, academic misconduct. Stage four would be a multi student conspiracy to hack into a teacher’s account, or plagiarism ring where a student is selling services writing papers for other students. I would consider that level four when it comes to academic misconduct. And it’s the same range I see especially in the college level but also at high school. A lot of accusations of sexual misconduct which can be vary from an unwelcome comment or a hand on someone’s back when they were not looking for that all the way up to accusations of rape. I see everything involving drug and alcohol misuse, and a lot of different attitudes from high schools whether, you know, a student brought a nicotine vape to school, versus some schools are going to be very, very strict. You know, there was vodka at prom, you’re expelled, right, a week before graduation. So it’s not just about the severity of the offense, kind of, in my opinion, but also what’s the school’s policy, and boarding schools especially can be very, very strict about zero tolerance and one offense, I see social media misuse, I’ve seen a couple stories in my career of student government election fraud in high school. So there are just a lot of ways to make bad decisions, and a lot of consequences that schools rather that students need to learn to overcome. Have you seen that


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:00

change through the pandemic? Like if a difference in what you’re seeing, pre COVID versus post COVID? As far as what these infractions are?


Hanna Stotland  06:11

Absolutely, I like to joke that my business model depends on every generation of students making the same dumb mistakes. And, you know, I thought that’s a pretty safe bet that Yeah. But at the beginning of the pandemic, at the lockdown, I thought, well, we’ve never in human history really had a generation of teenagers who are locked in their parents basements for a year, have drastically reduced access to the sex, alcohol and drugs that play a big role in the bad decision making that brings them into my office. And I should have had faith in our young people and in human nature, I was very busy in 2020, a lot of that risk taking behavior and other kinds of Miss judgment was expressed online. And so we had I had, I was busy with many cases of social media misuse of there was a huge rise in what I would call snitching where a third party’s other students are contacting high schools or colleges, sometimes tweeting at colleges that have admitted my student and saying, Did you know that your Admitted Student said this in a group chat two years ago, that kind of thing. So I was busy looking after students. In many cases who were in a lip sync for your life process, I don’t have an official word for what I call it. So this is a rule pal ology where institution finds out after acceptance, that there is some kind of disciplinary or other kinds of misbehavior in the past. And they more or less call the student on the carpet, on Zoom, and have them show call as why their acceptance shouldn’t be rescinded. So I was busy with those throughout the smile 20. And young people will find margins to push against, and they will test those boundaries. And they’ll find a way to do it, even if they’re finally under their parents watchful eye physically, right. Yeah. Wow. got leftover waste space online. There’s a lot of room to make mistakes using the internet. Well, yeah, let’s just be that’s part of becoming independent, right? Is it kind of,


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:26

I don’t know, stretching it pushing it pushing up against the boundary, because they are leaving our nest and that it’s normal. I mean, I want to say to parents, it’s normal for your kids to push it. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the frontal lobe to know what’s going too far. Have you seen that shift kind of come back now, like you saw a lot a change in what was going on in 2020? And which made you busier? Are you seeing a shift now as we’re in 2023, where it’s going back to kind of the same type of stuff you were dealing with, from the pandemic or some of the continuing to carry over.


Hanna Stotland  09:00

So mostly, it’s back to the pre pandemic pattern. But in some ways, there’s even been an increase, because we have students who are going to college with a part of their experiential upbringing, that was kind of deleted, right? They had, they missed out on a lot of the baby steps, the practice of how they were going to be in risk taking situations and in stressful situations. And so they’re back in person in school and it especially in college, but we have this, we’re going to have a few years of new college students who haven’t had a chance to kind of play in the kiddie pool. Yeah, get some of their mistakes out of the way in a lower stakes environment. And instead, they’re going off to college, just with less experience than we had or than the High School Class of 20. May 15 hat. So there’s a lot of sexual misconduct and a lot of drug and alcohol misuse with these less experienced students.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:08

That really makes sense. So for our listeners, if they’re like, Yep, I have a kid who, from a minor to A major or anywhere in between, what’s the obligation during that college admission process for the student to disclose to the colleges? about any of this? And how does that go?


Hanna Stotland  10:29

Well, I get a lot of questions from families about whether a high school is going to disclose and whether you know, is the counselor going to put this in the counselor letter for the common app? And those things are important. But the much more important question that families need to be ready for is what are the colleges asking? Because a lot of high schools, frankly, to protect themselves, which I’ll take a big part of the blame. It’s its lawyers, scared institutions into a lot of their kind of defensive behavior. So they may say, Well, we’re not going to disclose anything, because they don’t want to get sued. But that doesn’t change your obligation. If an application asks, Have you ever been suspended? Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation? You must say yes, if the answer is yes, even if the high school is going to refuse to answer any questions like that about you, does not change your obligation to be truthful on your application. And almost every school that’s asking that kind of question, they will give you an opportunity to explain what happened, your side of the story, if there’s a dispute about the facts, and the actually are reading and paying attention to those I speak to a lot of admissions counselors. And they’re not asking that just so they can throw the applications in the trash. They’re asking so that they can make an informed judgment about who’s the right fit for their institution, and what the consequence ought to be. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:01

it used to be that the Common App asked on the main application about disciplinary, have you had any disciplinary issues? And that was taken out of that, but many of the colleges still ask, Do you have any? Like, are you able to tell us X percentage of colleges are going to ask about disciplinary issues? Or how often are we going to come across that?


Hanna Stotland  12:25

So I don’t have data about how many students we should ask the common app, counting rules. And referring to your the change that you were referring to? Where this used to be a default question for any student using a common app, and used to be both a criminal and a school disciplinary history question. Now it’s up to each institution to decide whether they want to ask that question or not, and how to phrase it. So I don’t know what percentage of schools ask. I do know that, as you go up the selectivity, food chain, if you will, those IV plus kind of schools that many of our parents are having in mind for their students, those are especially likely to ask these kinds of questions. And the key part is, how are you going to talk about it? And how do you make use of the opportunity you’re being given to advocate for your next stage of education? So when


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:25

I have a question on that, so and I want to hear about navigating that, like how do you kind of control the narrative and how to do that, but at the same time, do you ever on the front end, let’s say that you’re working with a family, they’ve got a junior, and let’s pretend like it’s in the junior school year, so you’re not yet ready to write those essays and complete the application? Do you ever take an approach of I know that these schools and your expertise, these schools are going to be more open minded and friendlier to the student who has an infraction, whether it’s at the school level or criminal level? And do you put into the equation of building out that college list that feds, you know, how the schools treat that? Or do you just build the college list and go like, Okay, we’ll just navigate the school by school.


Hanna Stotland  14:17

So speaking for myself, where I have had hundreds of applicants applied to different universities with disciplinary records, either as freshmen or as transfers, yes, that track record of that institution does influence how I’m going to recommend building that college list. And usually it’s not, unless we’re talking about a stage four violation. Usually it’s not don’t even apply to this tier of schools. It’s a waste of time. That’s more rare. It’s more how are we building out the match and likely portions of the list so that you have a wider and deeper set of fallback options, in case your argument is falling on deaf ears, I had at some of those more selective institutions. So I take a very conservative approach, as far as including a lot of those places, and we’re never going to force you to enroll somewhere you don’t want to. But you don’t necessarily need to know the school, back and forth with multiple visits, and so on in order to be included on a list. And say, if this is a place that’s likely to give me a shot, then going forward, I’ll be able to do more research and see whether it’s the right fit for me. But at the list building stage, I want to see a lot of backups.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:40

There was inside the Facebook group that we’re both in, there was a discussion among all of us as counselors this week about how do you feel about summer visits. And I’m always telling family, like I encourage kids to go on campus when campuses in session, but to your point, you don’t have to be on the campus of every school that you even apply to, you can wait to see if you got it. And there’s plenty of visits that take place in the senior year and plenty of opportunities for admitted students days.


Hanna Stotland  16:10

That’s right. Especially I encourage student, every family is going to have a limited budget of time, if not also money to do college visits, right? You and I may be doing 30 visits a year, most families don’t want to do that. Budgeting those match and likely schools higher on your visit calendar is so much more important. Whether you have a disciplinary history or not. It’s very easy to go to Princeton and be impressed. Life. Right? Shocker. They have tremendous resources, beautiful campus, you know, really good professors who knew, right? What’s amazing is for that student who’s maybe has a Princeton dream, to discover that the University of Cincinnati has this amazing program in this or that field, or that they find the campus of the College of New Jersey to be beautiful and moving and they can picture themselves there. That is so invaluable. And frankly, if you get into Princeton, you’ll go to the fly in. Right, you’ll have a chance. And if you had to go without visiting it, would that be okay, too?


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:15

Yeah, would not be the worst thing ever. That’s gonna be okay. Try


Hanna Stotland  17:19

and find some schools that you know are going to admit you, you can discover I could love this school too. That’s the most valuable thing you can learn on a visit.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:29

I agree. I recently had on a friend of ours, Marnie Levine. And we talked about learning to love your life, please. And so it sounds like you’re saying for the students who have some sort of an infraction, that’s even more, I mean, it’s important for everybody, as we know, but it’s even more important. So when they right, when they


Hanna Stotland  17:49

failed me now, it’s crucial to be more open minded. When you are the student who you may be harder to admit, we’re talking about, you know, a level two or three, you have to extend our metaphor here. If you had a bigger tumor removed, right, you might need to plan for the possibility that some of the schools aren’t going to be able to live with that.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:13

Yeah. So okay, let’s talk about navigating it when it comes. So we’ve talked about navigating it with building the list. Now it’s time to apply, write the essays, how do you navigate that with your students?


Hanna Stotland  18:27

So the first and most important thing is to tell the truth. And in some ways that ought to be self evident, but it may not be on now, you’re not a witness on the witness stand when you are writing these assets. So you have to tell the truth, you don’t have to tell the whole truth, there is no such thing really, as telling the whole truth in a 500 word document that you’re going to be making judgments about what to include. So you should be thinking at the outset, is that my reader going to find out information from somewhere else potentially? Is there going to be a note on my transcript, a disclosure in my school counselor letter? Is there a third party, someone who felt that I victimized them or someone who perhaps was my co conspirator? I see this very frequently, my friend and I got in trouble together. And maybe my friend or their parent won’t be happy if I get into a school they don’t get into? And do I need to anticipate the possibility that they’ll hear another version of this an uglier version from somewhere else? And if so, those versions need to write. They don’t need to be identical, right? You’re not making an argument against yourself. But you should anticipate the best arguments against admitting you and address those fears that a reader might have is she going to come and cheat here in college or is she going to be misusing alcohol and drugs on our campus and being a pain in our neck, so we need to anticipate that another important thing to do Think about is, how am I presenting this as being about me, very often these are multi character stories, and there’s somebody you’re mad at might be the institution, you might feel that your high school was very unfair and let somebody else off when you got punished. Or you might feel that really part of the blame should go to your friend, Brandon, who’s the one who brought the pot college does not want to hear about Brandon, they want to hear about you. And so if there is any perception that you’re blaming third parties for bad choices that you made, that is a very, very bad impression to leave. So whatever portion of the story was on you, it is true, most of us get in trouble in groups, that’s very often the case. And if the story doesn’t make sense, without the other characters in it, you may need to mention them. But this is about you taking ownership for your decisions, and not about whether the high school was too harsh, or your friends put pressure on you to drink at prom. It’s just about you. Well, it makes me think of, you know, if somebody is in prison, and they come up for parole, and they have a parole hearing, if that person is sitting there, like denying it and not accepting the blame, not accepting responsibility and not showing growth and unchanged attitude,


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:27

then they don’t get out. Right. I mean, it’s, it’s really less than the same way.


Hanna Stotland  21:32

Well, that’s right, you’re asking for another opportunity. Yeah. And what your reader is most concerned about is what are you bringing to campus good and bad. And if you show I made this mistake, here’s how I learned and grew from it. Here’s why I don’t do this anymore. And you’re not gonna have problems with me misbehaving. If you admit me. That’s what they’re interested in learning about. And they’re listening. Right? It this doesn’t mean that every school is going to take you especially at the schools, where, you know, they’re denying 19 Kids, for everyone, they admit, this can’t absolutely can be a reason why you don’t get into your dream school. And that may be, but I really think the schools are telling the truth, when they say we read these, we pay attention to them. And we are trying to give fair consideration to each applicant. So you tell your side of the story, and you give it your best shot. So they’re telling that story.


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:27

Typically in an essay, we’re not an essay, but in a short answer, okay? And in an essay, a short answer on that, the part of the application that goes only to that particular college, so everybody, if it’s under the mycologist tab, and your common app, it only goes to the college that ask the question, it’s not going to all the other colleges. So they might be telling us so over and over, do you see ever that the college reaches out for more information or to talk to the student?


Hanna Stotland  22:59

Absolutely. So schools do reach out, that’s one of the ways that we can see inside the black box a little bit and know that they are taking this seriously. So they may ask for documentation? Like, did you get a letter from your school describing the suspension and the terms of the suspension, maybe we want to see that they might ask your permission to contact the high school or the college if you’re a transfer applicant, which I virtually always recommend that if you are asked for that permission that you give it. Because the truth is almost always better than what they will imagine in the absence of information, right? If they think so would like to learn more about this? And you say no, I refuse to let you speak to the school, they’re gonna assume that you’re an expert. And that’s probably the end of your consideration at that school. So it is up to you whether do you give that permission, but you’re more or less saying? Thanks, but no, thanks. I’m gonna put my effort into other colleges if you deny that permission,


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:00

right? I mean, everybody invents their own narrative, in the absence of information from somebody else, no matter what it is, we do it every day as human beings. So that is only natural. What do you have any final tips of advice before we let our listeners go?


Hanna Stotland  24:17

Take it seriously. But don’t panic. Almost always. I talked to so many families who are just either at a moment of crisis, I often pick up my phone and I just hear sobbing on the other end. And that’s a mom whose kid just got expelled. Yeah, yeah. And very, very often, you know, especially in the higher level violations. parent will say to me, I just I fear that his life is over. And what I say there are two sets of circumstances where at least for now, I’m going to agree with you that things are going to change permanently. If your kid is going to prison for a long time, or if your kid has been adjudicated a sex offender. Alright, in either of those cases when you’re crying anyone saying his life is over the life that you planned may well be Oh, yeah. Everybody else, right? Those are the nuclear consequences. And everybody else, including everybody who’s expelled. No expulsion by itself is the end of anybody’s education doesn’t need to be. We have a lot of paths forward in the United States. There’s people can go to community college, they can go to online college transfer from there, that’s what happened. And it’s more or less what happened to me, I think of it although I was going to a four year school was a bit of a stepping stone for me, someplace gave me and opportunity. And I did well there and I was able to show that to Harvard and get that opportunity. Try and keep your perspective and model that for the student. That this is, it could be a severe problem. We’re going to address it, we’re going to do our best and move forward in this new set of circumstances. And not saying that a high school issues no consequence, a high school issues can ever be the end of your life at the end of your education. Amen. I knew


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:07

this is a tough topic, but it is full of hope. And I know that you are inspiring hope in the families that are listening, if anybody wants to keep in touch, how do they find you.


Hanna Stotland  26:20

So if you Google me how to Scotland it’s H A N Na, s t o t l a n d, you’ll find my website which has my cell number on it and like I dig out to get those calls from the panicking parent and take them at all hours of the day and night, you’ll find my email address there. It’s Hana at Hana scotland.com. And you’ll also find a lot of links on my website to other chances that I had to talk to colleagues or be on TV and radio. And you can learn a little bit more about my practice from that as well.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:52

Fantastic. Well, thank you for making time. I so appreciate it.


Hanna Stotland  26:57

This was lots of fun. I’d love to come back.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:59

Absolutely. Thank you to Hana for inspiring hope. I know I normally give a college bound task for your weekend. But I think this week, I’m going to keep it simple. If you’re still listening, you likely are navigating something hard with your team. My advice is to simply have a conversation of hope and reality and give your kid a hug. It will be okay. If today’s episode was helpful to you please share this with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future