Having a felony on your record may make you feel extra stressed when applying to colleges and universities. Schools are becoming increasingly selective in applicants and it often feels like they scrutinize every last detail on applications. However, a felony should not deter potential students from applying to the schools they are interested in. While schools do differ in the information they collect from applicants, with private schools often assessing applicants on more personal characteristics, generally schools do not ask about applicants criminal records. Admission counselors generally assess applicants based on their grade point average, standardized test scores and work experience.
College Entrance Qualifications
College admission requirements depend on the college or university you are applying to. They vary further depending on whether the applicant is applying for undergraduate programs or graduate programs, and whether the applicant will be a traditional or non-traditional student. Traditional undergraduate students are commonly evaluated for admission based on ACT or SAT scores and high school grade point average (GPA). Non-traditional undergraduate students are commonly evaluated based on their transfer GPA obtained at other institutions or otherwise are assessed on more lenient criteria. Graduate programs evaluate students based on their undergraduate GPA and specific department requirements such as graduate level standardized test scores and specific entrance criteria to the program.
While students are generally admitted to college regardless of their criminal background, they may have some challenges once on campus. The challenges individuals will face usually depend on what the felony was for and the age of the felony, as well as individual issues while on campus. For example, some forms of student housing may not be available to individuals with certain felonies and some on-campus jobs may require background checks. Additionally, some classes, opportunities for service-learning, internships or other campus activities may require a background check that excludes individuals with criminal records. Students concerned this may be the case for something they are interested in can clarify any conditions in advance and speak with their program adviser about obtaining alternative experience.
Impact on Financial Aid
A felony does not disqualify students from most sources of financial aid. Exceptions occur when the felony was drug related or resulted in incarceration for a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense. The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires that students who received federal student aid and during that time were convicted of sale or possession of drugs under federal or state law will be suspended from receiving additional federal financial aid. Students who lose eligibility because of a drug conviction can get it reinstated if they pass two random drug tests that meet U.S. Department of Education criteria. Students who were incarcerated for forcible or non-forcible sexual offenses may not be eligible for the Pell Grant. Regardless of the conviction, all students should file the Free Application for Student Federal Aid so that they are considered for other funding opportunities as well.
Felony May Cause Issues with Licensing or Certification
While students may be admitted to college and graduate school with little issue in spite of having a felony, they might have problems getting the job, licensing or certification the degree prepared them for. Individuals considering getting a college degree should research the career the degree will lead to and whether there are any barriers that may present themselves in their circumstance. Not all licenses or certifications bar individuals with a felony and those that do often only exclude individuals with certain types of convictions. It is better to know in advance before investing time and money in a particular major when another major might have been a better option.