Ask a Professor: What to Do If You’ve Been Expelled From College

What can get you expelled from college? And what can you do after being expelled? A college professor explains your options when facing expulsion.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on July 14, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Ask a Professor: What to Do If You’ve Been Expelled From College
Image Credit: Emilija Manevska / Moment / Getty Images


Colleges rarely expel students for academic reasons. Most schools work with students struggling academically who risk expulsion. However, colleges have the right to expel students for violating policies or the code of conduct.

While expulsions are rare, they do occur. So what does it mean to be expelled from college? What can cause an expulsion? And can you still earn a degree after being expelled?

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What Does It Mean to Be Expelled From College?

Colleges and universities expel students who violate campus policies, fail to meet academic standards, or break the law. Expulsion is a very serious step. Students can no longer attend the school after an expulsion.

Before expelling students, colleges typically conduct an investigation and hold hearings where students can defend themselves. In some cases, students can voluntarily withdraw before an expulsion.

What's the difference between suspension and expulsion?

Colleges may temporarily suspend students as a disciplinary action. Expulsion means permanently losing your place at the college. After a suspension, undergrads can return to the school and register for classes.

Returning after an expulsion is more difficult. At many schools, students may face a suspension or probation before being expelled. Undergraduates can also appeal a suspension or expulsion.

What Causes Expulsion in College?

Expulsion is a significant decision. Colleges generally resort to expulsion in serious situations where there are no other remedies. For example, a persistent failing academic record, cheating, or illegal activity can result in expulsion.

Academic Probation

Colleges have clear policies on academic performance. Students who drop below a minimum GPA, often 2.0, typically receive academic probation. If students fail to make progress or continue to receive low grades, the college can expel them.

Schools generally avoid expelling undergraduates for one failing grade or even one semester with low grades.

However, students with persistent academic problems, including multiple failing grades, can face expulsion. In these situations, students often have the option to withdraw from school before an expulsion. A withdrawal gives students more options to return to school later.

Academic Integrity Violations

Colleges set academic integrity policies that include expulsion as a disciplinary action. For example, serious cases of plagiarism or cheating may result in expulsion. So can falsifying documents.

After the 2019 college admissions scandal, for example, multiple universities expelled students linked to it.

The process for addressing academic integrity violations typically includes a hearing where students can explain their actions. Cases of accidental plagiarism, for example, typically do not lead to expulsion. Chapman University has a list of common academic integrity violations that offers more examples that could lead to expulsion.

Criminal Activity

Criminal activity — even off-campus criminal activity — can lead to expulsion. Colleges have student conduct policies that lay out the consequences for different violations.

Minor violations like a parking ticket do not rise to the level of expulsion. But more serious criminal accusations can result in suspension or expulsion. In particular, schools can expel students deemed a threat to others.

Violating Campus Housing Policies

It may seem minor compared to breaking the law or cheating on a test, but campus housing violations can be serious. And violating your school's campus housing policies can result in expulsion.

Typically, colleges take several steps before expulsion, including warnings, suspensions, and expulsion from on-campus housing. But for serious violations, the consequences can include expulsion from the school.

Illegal drugs, violent behavior, or harassment can represent serious violations.

Can You Appeal an Expulsion or Suspension?

Each school has its own process for expelling students, which often includes an investigation or hearing. But can you appeal an expulsion or suspension after the school reaches its final ruling?

Students can appeal a suspension or expulsion. However, colleges only allow appeals for specific reasons, such as an error in the investigation or new information. They may also limit the timeframe to submit an appeal.

Read your school's policies closely to make sure you understand the appeal process. You can also reach out to an attorney who specializes in expulsion appeals.

Can You Go Back to College After Being Expelled?

Is it possible to finish your degree after an expulsion? Yes, students expelled from college can still earn a degree. However, an expulsion can limit their options.

Below are four steps you can follow to return to college after an expulsion:

1  Consider an Appeal

If you're hoping to gain readmission to your previous school, consider filing an appeal of your expulsion. Keep in mind that schools follow a process to decide expulsions, so an appeal might not work. If the school does overturn the expulsion, you can reenroll.

2  Research Readmission

Just like schools have codes of conduct, they also have readmission policies. At some schools, you can apply for readmission after an expulsion. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, for example, students expelled for low grades can apply for readmission after one year.

3  Contact Your Former School

If you decide to apply to other schools, it's still a good idea to contact your former school. Ask about the materials they provide to other schools when you apply for admission. It's important to know what records the school shares so you can explain the expulsion.

4  Disclose the Expulsion

When applying to new schools, make sure to disclose the expulsion on your application. Never lie or cover up an expulsion. That can be grounds for expulsion from your new school. Instead, provide context and an explanation for the expulsion on your record.

How to Avoid Expulsion

An expulsion will appear on your academic record permanently. Even if you return to college and graduate, the expulsion remains on your record. So the best way to handle an expulsion is to avoid it, if possible.

Make sure you understand your school's policies and procedures. If you've violated a policy, research the potential outcomes and what steps you can take to avoid expulsion. A student adviser at your school can help you understand policies.

If the school does expel you, look into the appeals process. An overturned expulsion will have less impact than an expulsion still listed on your record. Overall, take steps to follow your school's policies and consider withdrawing before an academic expulsion.

For example, if you're on academic probation because of medical issues or a mental health condition, a temporary withdrawal makes it easier to return than an expulsion. If you are expelled from college, take time to reflect on the cause of your expulsion. Then, consider your next steps.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Expulsion

What does "expel" mean in college?

Getting expelled from college is one of the most serious disciplinary actions. Colleges expel students who violate academic integrity policies, break the law, or create an unsafe campus environment. They also dismiss students who fail to meet academic standards.

What happens if you are expelled from college?

If you are expelled from college, you can no longer attend the school. At some colleges, expelled students face arrest if they return to campus.

After an expulsion, you have several options. You can apply to other schools to finish your degree. You can pursue different forms of education and training. Or you can appeal your expulsion. Some colleges let expelled students apply for readmission after 1-5 years.

Are expulsions temporary?

Unlike a suspension, expulsions are not temporary. Instead, the student must leave the school. However, students can appeal an expulsion or apply for readmission after a certain amount of time. These policies vary depending on the school.

Does expulsion show up on transcripts?

Yes, college expulsions show up on your transcripts. As a result, you should never lie or cover up an expulsion when applying to other schools or applying to jobs. Instead, disclose the expulsion and provide context.

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