How to Prepare for a College Disciplinary Hearing

September 28, 2022
College Disciplinary Hearing

College disciplinary hearings can be confusing and overwhelming. After receiving a letter stating mandatory attendance to a misconduct hearing, many students are confused about their next steps, and decide to simply appear before a hearing board and hope for the best. Too often, students approach college disciplinary hearings with the thought that if they just tell the truth, everything will work out fine. Likewise, many students don’t appreciate how high the stakes may be at a college disciplinary hearing – even a seemingly minor policy violation could potentially lead to suspension or expulsion. All of this is to say that students must prepare for college disciplinary hearings.

Request Additional Information if Necessary

To begin with, students must receive a proper notice letter that explains the code of conduct sections in question. If a student receives a letter that merely states the policy section in issue, but nothing more (i.e. the date of the violation and the alleged behavior in question), the student should request additional information. After all, you can’t prepare for a college disciplinary hearing if you don’t even know what someone thinks you did wrong (and when it may have happened).

After reviewing the notice letter, a student must take the time to read the code of conduct, which should outline a student’s rights in the process. Students at public institutions have greater legal protections than students at private institutions. That’s just how the law works. Generally speaking, private schools are only required to provide students with the rights set forth in the handbook, nothing more. So, don’t assume that what happens at one school will be what happens at another. Every school has its own policies and procedures.

Inquire About Informal Resolution

Students should always inquire whether informal resolution is available. Informal resolution may have different names at schools, but it essentially refers to a procedural vehicle by which a student can resolve a student conduct case without having a finding of responsibility on the student’s disciplinary record. Resolving a disciplinary case without the stress and risk of uncertainty that often goes along with a college disciplinary hearing is usually extremely beneficial to the student; this is a low risk process that tend to alleviate some of the burden places on the student(s) in question. Informal resolution often involves an educational component like taking an online training and then writing a reflection paper. At times, informal resolution may also entail a requirement that a student participate in some form of counseling or agree to a no contact order with another student.

Check the Standard of Proof

If informal resolution is not an option and the matter must proceed to a formal hearing, a student should be sure to check the standard of proof that will be relied upon for a finding of responsibility. Most schools utilize the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof, which means that something is more likely than not. Sometimes the preponderance of the evidence is referred to as 50% plus a feather. Unlike criminal cases in court, college disciplinary hearings never use proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Take Time to Prepare for a Hearing

When a student must participate in a formal college disciplinary hearing, a student must take time to prepare for the hearing. After reading about the hearing procedures in the student handbook, preparation includes thinking about what evidence is available to be submitted and who might be a favorable witness to testify at the hearing. Examples of commonly submitted evidence include photos, text messages, social media posts, and other digital records. Helpful witnesses are individuals with knowledge that help to prove or disprove a fact. Most college disciplinary hearings don’t permit character evidence. Character evidence is the label for evidence suggesting that someone did, or didn’t do, something because of the person’s personality, traits, or propensities.

Prepare to Make a Statement and Answer Questions

At the hearing, a student should be prepared to make a statement and answer questions posed by members of a hearing panel. A student’s statement might include an explanation of what happened and what evidence exists that supports the student’s version of events. If there are discrepancies in evidence or witness statements, the student should be prepared to explain those discrepancies. A student should also be prepared to answer questions. Prepare to answer really hard and uncomfortable question – the odds of these questions surfacing are extremely likely. Also, keep in mind that there will likely be questions about drug or alcohol consumption, so be sure to know the school’s amnesty policy. Keep in mind, however, that at times, particularly when a case involves allegations that could lead to criminal charges, it might be in a student’s best interest not to answer questions, regardless of the school’s amnesty policy.

Hire a Lawyer to Serve as a Student Advisor

The bottom line is that college disciplinary hearings are incredibly important and require a thoughtful strategy. Students are best protected by hiring a lawyer to serve as a student advisor. Although the lawyer will not be permitted to speak at the hearing, the lawyer will work with the student to prepare a defense and make sure the student’s rights are protected. Most schools permit the student to have an advisor present at the hearing. During a hearing, when a student isn’t sure how to handle something, the student can ask for a break and consult with the advisor. An experienced advisor will assist with strategy, suggest questions to be posed to witnesses, take detailed notes, and provide emotional support to help the student stay calm and focused. Too much has already been invested in a college education for a student to not do their best at a college disciplinary hearing.

For more information on the college disciplinary process, please contact Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (; 216.736.7229) or Kristina Supler (; 216.736.7217).