Can I get into college with a criminal record?

criminal record in collegeIt’s common knowledge that a criminal record negatively impacts your employment or even your housing search. Likewise, earning a degree won’t be that easy for aspiring college students with prior convictions. With that said, it should be made clear that while past criminal convictions can affect your chances of earning a college degree, being in this situation will not deny you of the opportunity to go to college. Simply put, there is no law preventing people with felony records or minor criminal records from attending college.

The consensus of the Supreme Court majority opinion from 50 years ago is that “Education is the very foundation of good citizenship.” The notion of equal education for all still rings true to this day. It implies that the right to education is afforded to everyone regardless of their background. If you’ve made a few bad decisions in your life choices, you may still have the opportunity to rebound, get your life on track and earn the quality education that you deserve.

As campus safety has been a concern in recent years, universities and colleges across the United States are taking the necessary measures to ensure a safe school environment, as they should. Whether information on criminal history should be treated as private information and included in college application questions is still a subject of heated debates.

There are neither formal nor legal restrictions governing the process by which colleges look at the applicant’s disclosed criminal records. Many decide upon these convictions and legal violations on a case-by-case basis. Schools may require, among other things, letters from the probation officer validating the readiness of the college applicant. Primarily, deciding a student’s admission in this situation is the prerogative of the college or university.

If you’ve unfortunately obtained a criminal record and are seeking post-secondary education, here are a few facts to consider. Roughly 67% of higher education institutions now require disclosure of prior convictions by all college applicants. About 5% also require ticking of the “criminal history” box and going through criminal history screenings for specific degree programs. Some 25% of these colleges automatically close their doors to violent and sexual offenders while 75% of them view convictions relating to alcohol and drugs as serious factors for non-admission and flat-out reject applicants with prior felony convictions.

Your criminal record also determines whether you will get financial aid. Federal laws dictate that individuals who are incarcerated and wish to study behind bars have limited eligibility for federal student loans or a Federal Pell Grant, which is awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need and does not need to be repaid. Upon release, most limitations on eligibility will be removed except if the reason for incarceration was drug-related or involved a sexual offense that subjects the federal aid applicant to voluntary civil commitment.

It is a challenge for someone with a criminal record to attend a higher education institution and get their degree, but it is also possible. If you have a lawbreaking past that is keeping you from attending college to earn the degree you are willing to work hard for, it may be best to talk to an attorney who specializes in the field of education. They can inform you of your legal rights and help you make a choice that’s right for you.


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