Honesty – The Best Policy

I’m on an e-list of college counselors from both sides of the desk across the country. Every day I get upwards of 100 e-mails offering ideas or asking questions to better serve their students. Often – I come across information that is enormously helpful to our students and sometimes I see questions that I feel I should chime in on.

One such e-mail sent by an independent counselor recently has gotten me in a tither. Her original post was asking for advice: should her advisee disclose personal information to colleges in her applications regarding her recent treatment for drug abuse. I offered my feedback basically stating what our policy is here at Hyde – be honest, and show what has changed. A college wants to know and will take the growth of a student as a sign of readiness. This counselor thanked me for my input and I went about business as usual, early applications and editing essays.

As is customary for posts to the e-list, the original poster will then follow up by posting a compendium all the results he or she received to their query. This is where I got my goose in a gander: while most of the posts from counselors in high schools or colleges affirmed my position – some did not. “Don’t disclose,” they said, it will “freak a college out” or “it’s too early” to tell the truth. I sat here looking at my screen nonplussed.

What could their motive be? How can adults, in good conscience, tell a young person it’s ok to lie? If this event in a student’s life has taken his or her life off-course and now he or she is back on course, how does it feel to then need to lie about it? Is it about image over truth? What if a student DID get into a school and still struggles – what is her credibility with this or future schools?

I wrote back to the whole e-list, expressing my concerns and here is an excerpt from that post:

“I think this was an important question because it gets to the heart of what our first priority is – to help the student find the best fit in a college so that he or she can become the person s/he was meant to become. The profound extent to which a student thrives in a college setting is directly related to whether that setting was a “just right” fit. Colleges know their students, their programs, their environment, and they know not only who would contribute to make their communities work better but they know the most about which students have not succeeded in their environments and why.

A student needs to feel that he or she has given a college the full, true picture – that there are no skeletons in the closest, that the adults around them want them to be forthright, honest people. Sure – they may have made mistakes – who hasn’t! If the mistake is a learning experience and the student shares with the college how he or she has evolved beyond that mistake, the college will see that and honor it – if he or she still fits as a good match for the academic and social population of their school. A student who is truly dealing with a substance issue is a far stronger student if she is indeed dealing with her issues – how many kids in college flunk out because they didn’t deal with their issues beforehand?

We need to trust colleges to use information wisely. There’s a college for every student and colleges know that they are evaluating students as “works in progress.” Let’s be the mentors to these kids who are helping them live with the truths in their lives, and not teach them to cover up the unpleasant or inconvenient. Pretty soon the shellac that has been used to gloss over the truth will start to crack.”

I’m not sure how the cyber-world of counselors is going to see my reaction – but so far I have gotten one response: “Bravo!” which gives me hope. Our mission at Hyde is clear – to shepherd our young charges towards the very best they are capable of, armed with truth, and with the knowledge that they can change the world. I think it comes so naturally to us at Hyde that I have to remember, it’s not like that beyond our campuses – but I will continue to share with my college counseling colleagues throughout the world that the Hyde mission really is our collective mission.