How Honest Should We Be?


Judy Moseman shares with a parent the importance of being honest on college applications.

Q: My son has been pretty far from the Lord and has done many sinful things. But now that he's entering his senior year in high school, he's rededicated his life to Christ. He wants to serve God with all of his heart. He also wants to attend a certain Christian college after graduation. But I'm wondering if my son should let the school know about his past, which includes a couple of arrests. I'm afraid if he shares these details with admissions counselors, he won't get into the school he wants to attend. Should he "tell all" or keep his past in the past?
A: I think it's best to be honest. It's true that the college may weigh the potential risks of admitting your son, depending on the severity of his actions and the circumstances. But knowing that he has been truthful with the school he attends will free him from worry that someone may find out about him later and ask him to leave.
I'd recommend a proactive approach that is straightforward, but does not emphasize the problems your son has had in the past. Here's an example: Many Christian colleges require students to write an essay reflecting on their spiritual lives. Your son can write honestly about his past experiences, sharing that although he has been in trouble, that's only a small part of his journey. Hopefully he's reflected on it, learned the lessons he's needed along the way, and left it behind him. That's a story any growing Christian can relate to!
Applications often require references from teachers or youth pastors. You and your son can choose references who will be able to talk about the changes in your son's character since the arrests and describe what the college can expect from him now.
It's also a good idea to arrange for an admissions interview at the colleges your son is considering. These interviews will allow your son to give admissions counselors a more complete sense of who he is, beyond what an essay or a recommendation can convey. Meeting your son in person will help admissions people see your son's past the way the two of you do: as just one part of who he is. His confidence in communicating this will go a long way.
Finally, I'd encourage him to not limit his options to just one school. If he does, he might end up feeling deeply discouraged if he doesn't get accepted there. Encourage him to research several institutions that would give him a solid academic experience and help him mature in his faith.
A word of comfort: The admissions staffs at Christian colleges are probably not looking for a way to "disqualify" your son. Instead, they are trying to consider whether the environment at their particular schools can best support your son's efforts to turn around. Your son's honesty with them will demonstrate his commitment to those efforts!
The most important thing is that your son is inviting God to strengthen him in his renewed dedication to Christ. Surround him and his search with prayer. I believe in the transforming power of God to change lives. I also believe there are Christian colleges that would welcome him and prepare him to follow through on his desire to serve God.
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