Law school applications ask about both academic and non-academic sanctions. These questions are generally open-ended enough to include everything from a suspension for failure to maintain a minimum grade point average to an R.A.’s warning for violation of the bathroom policy. All end up on your disciplinary record and/or your transcript.
You should answer these questions truthfully and completely. If you have any doubts about what is on your disciplinary record, request a copy from the Dean of Students’ office so that you can review it before completing your law school applications. Those schools that ask for a Dean’s Certification will be receiving this information independently, and will notice any discrepancy between your answers and those reported on the Dean’s Certification.
All disciplinary violations require some kind of explanation on your applications. The explanation should be brief and to the point, and should also take into consideration the seriousness of the offense. You do not need to go into great detail about a noise policy violation for which you received a warning. The law school admission committees do not really care about these sorts of minor violations. Accordingly, “I was written up by my RA for playing my stereo too loud,” is sufficient. Your record will reflect that there were no repeat offenses (if that is the case), so you do not need to point that out. Generally, the types of offenses that are considered minor and of negligible importance to law school admissions committees include the following:
Unauthorized guest in room
Minor housing violations (e.g., moving furniture)
Alcohol-related disciplinary violations may be more concerning, but isolated incidents are unlikely to affect your admission. Underage drinking, violation of the open container rules, or having alcohol in your dorm room are not taken too seriously to the extent that those violations were single incidents and did not result in criminal charges of any kind. A certain amount of youthful indulgence is tolerated.
Academic discipline is normally reflected on your transcript, and so the law schools will see it from an independent source. Answering the question on the application is your opportunity to give some context to the discipline. For example, if you dropped all of your classes more than halfway through the semester one year because of some family problems, and were placed on academic probation as a result, this is your chance to tell the admission committee about those extenuating circumstances. If you were struggling for a while for less compelling reasons, feel free to own up to that. Forthrightly acknowledging your mistakes will demonstrate that you have the maturity to move beyond them.
As with your disciplinary record, you should review your transcript (NOT your Academic Requirements Report) prior to answering the questions on the application. Note that on UMass transcripts, an “academic warning” (indicating that your GPA for that semester was less than 2.0) only appears on your unofficial transcript, and not the official one that you forward to the law schools through LSAC. So the transcript you look at online on SPIRE may differ from the official one in this regard. In either case, however, you can expect the admissions committee to notice this particular semester’s work and have questions about it. Even if it did not result in discipline, you may want to consider including an addendum to explain your performance that semester. (Please note that it is sometimes possible to have adverse academic information removed from or changed on your transcript. You should contact the academic advising dean for your school or college if you think this might apply to your situation.)
The most serious academic violation is of the academic honesty policy. A finding that you have cheated or plagiarized raises serious questions about your ability to conduct yourself in an ethical manner as an attorney. If you have such a violation on your disciplinary record, you should come speak to the Pre-Law Advisor to discuss your options.
If you have any questions about your disciplinary record, or want to dispute any information found on it, you should contact the Dean of Students’ Office.