Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 22, 2021

Common App removed the disciplinary history question, but will Hopkins?

By CHRIS H. PARK | November 7, 2020



Universities can still ask for disciplinary history from applicants, though the Common App removed the question.

The Common Application (Common App), the most widely used tool used to submit college applications, announced last month that it will no longer ask applicants about their high school disciplinary history beginning during next year’s application cycle. Students applying to universities through Common App have had to answer such questions since 2006. 

Citing a study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles, Common App highlighted that school discipline had a disproportionate impact on students of color and in particular Black students. Common App’s internal data also revealed that students with disciplinary history were less likely to submit applications.

Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of Common App, mentioned in a press release that the decision was meant to help foster a more equitable application process.

“We want our application to allow students to highlight their full potential. Requiring students to disclose disciplinary actions has a clear and profound adverse impact,” Rickard wrote. “This is about taking a stand against practices that suppress college-going aspiration and overshadow potential.”

Common App is not the first application tool to remove the question. A competitor platform, the Coalition for College, made the decision in 2017.

Individual universities, however, can still ask the question in the school-specific application section.

In an email to The News-Letter, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Ellen Kim stated that the University has yet to decide whether to add the question to the application for Hopkins.

“We are currently reviewing additional information to evaluate the reason for the change and how it may impact our process,“ she wrote.

Hopkins has made standardized testing, including SAT and ACT, optional this application cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Kim, the University is deliberating the testing policy for next year.

Senior Claire Zou stated that she supports Common App’s decision in an interview with The News-Letter.

“It definitely doesn’t address the entire disparity, but this is a good first step on the part of Common App to acknowledge that Black and brown students have disproportionately received disciplinary infractions,” she said. “The fact that Common App is recognizing this amidst the Black Lives Matter protests is really important in recognizing that students are inhibited and discouraged from access to higher education because of systemic issues.”

Zou is involved with Matriculate, which is a nonprofit organization operating in 14 universities that helps high-achieving, low-income high school students in their college application process. She also participates in Thread, a Baltimore-based organization founded by a Hopkins alum that aims to connect community volunteers to mentor Baltimore high school students.

Sophomore Laís Santoro, also a member of Matriculate and Thread, voiced support for the decision and stated that Hopkins should remove the disciplinary question as well.

“It’s important to be thinking about how students of color and low-income students are disproportionately affected,“ she said. “Hopkins talks about being justice-minded and being there for Black students. They have a responsibility to stick to what they’ve been saying and what their goals are.”

Sophomore Siena DeFazio stressed in an email to The News-Letter that students should push the University to make the change.

“The reality that some students are targeted by high school administrations unfairly is just never noticed or at least not given thought,” she wrote. “What I see our responsibility is to ensure the people in power cannot continue to fall into the trap of believing that students with no disciplinary actions against them are always more deserving of acceptance.”

DeFazio has been working to remove the disciplinary history question for students who apply to be an advising fellow at Matriculate.

Zou believes that Hopkins should follow Common App in recognizing the implications of asking the disciplinary history question.

“I don’t think this question should be something that discourages students from applying to institutions like Hopkins,“ she said. “Knowing that Hopkins has the option, I hope that they take this opportunity to recognize that this is a barrier to Black and brown students.”

Laís Santoro is a staff writer for The News-Letter. She did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.

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