Getting into college is tough, but it’s especially difficult for ex-offenders reentering the education system.
In the past, people with criminal records faced severe discrimination, often struggling to find work and education opportunities.
But things seem to be looking up with the “ban the box” initiative. The movement encourages employers and colleges to implement a more lenient approach and not ask about a candidate’s criminal history.
Although felons can go to college, previous criminal charges can negatively impact their chances of getting accepted.
We’ll look at the factors ex-offenders should consider when applying to colleges and how they can improve their application.
Get Ready For College
Felons looking to improve their life should focus on filling the gaps in their educational background. If you were convicted before getting a high school diploma or its equivalent, it’s time to earn your GED (General Educational Development).
You’ll need to pass four tests to receive the certificate. After passing all four parts of the exam, you can apply to nearly all colleges in North America.
Another high school equivalency option is the HiSET exam. It allows those out of school to show they have the skills and abilities required by high school standards.
Most U.S. states and territories recognize HiSET, GED, and TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) diplomas.
Depending on where you live, you may only be able to take one option. Some states provide all three, and candidates can choose which one they want to take. Regardless of which test is available, the state will issue a completion diploma to everyone who passes the examination.
Prep the Application
Freed felons should be honest in their college essay. They should highlight how their past experiences have impacted their life and the steps they’ve taken to turn things around.
It’s a good idea to attach recommendation letters from people who have witnessed this positive change.
Also, any college applicant, ex-offender or not, should bolster their application with volunteer and community work.
Did you know? Currently, 37 states and over 145 cities have adopted some form of “ban the box” laws.
Check the Admission Odds
According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, many colleges still ask applicants about their criminal history.
Private and four-year colleges have a more stringent application review process. Consequently, they’re more likely to reject an ex-offender in favor of a candidate without a criminal record.
On the other hand, community colleges aren’t as strict and are more open to welcoming those with a criminal history to their campus.
Those with felony convictions have a good chance of getting accepted into a community program even when asked to disclose their records.
For many, community colleges are a better solution. They’re less expensive than four-year schools and offer flexible schedules. If you’re rejected from your dream school, you can take classes at a community college and later transfer to a four-year program.
Additionally, research the schools you’re interested in and check their stance on criminal history disclosures.
When you’re familiar with these policies, you’ll organize your records and give honest and authentic responses to tricky questions.
Omitting certain information from your college application is ill-advised. If the university decides to perform a background check, it may expel students who have lied on their applications.
Another thing you should consider is online courses. They might be easier to get into that traditional on-campus programs.
Kaplan University, Colorado Technical University, and Capella University have online courses, and you may be interested in enrolling in one of these schools.
Talk to the Admissions Office
Colleges take time to decide which students are a good fit, but felons should also think about what they expect from their school. Try to schedule an interview with the admissions office and ask which resources are available to students who need extra support.
Find a Support System
Applying to colleges can be daunting, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to nonprofits like CCF that can help handle application fees and connect you with others in a similar situation.
CCF and similar organizations also resolve outstanding balances that prevent students from retrieving their transcripts.
If possible, ex-offenders should rely on reintegration programs that help them get used to living on the outside again.
Did you know? One of the most successful reintegration programs for ex-offenders is the PEP (Prison Entrepreneurship Program).
It provides inmates with a mini-MBA curriculum and handles transition housing upon their release. This thorough approach ensures that freed felons can make the most of their potential and avoid reoffending.
Look Into Financial Aid Options
While some assume a criminal conviction automatically disqualifies them from receiving financial aid, that’s not always the case.
Students seeking financial support for their studies must file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Applicants for federal grants and loans are asked to disclose their criminal history, but their eligibility primarily depends on the nature of the offense.
Those convicted of sexual and drug crimes have a slim chance of getting approved for financial aid. Nonviolent offenses and misdemeanors shouldn’t get in the way of an applicant receiving a student loan or grant.
Students convicted of drug charges while receiving federal aid forfeit their right to financial support. They can requalify for financial aid after completing a rehab program or passing two random drug tests performed by a rehab facility.
Consider Top Career Options For Felons
While you should pursue a degree that aligns with your interests, you need to think about what job you can realistically get with a felony. For example, although an ex-offender might have a stellar GPA, some employers may not be prepared to look past the conviction.
While deciding on a career path, it’s best to skip courses that require licensing. Many colleges could accept students with criminal records into a nursing or teaching program.
But after completing their studies, these students may be unable to obtain the necessary licenses due to their criminal history. As a result, they won’t be allowed to work in schools, nursing homes, or care centers.
As of today, some popular majors among ex-offenders include Construction Management, Graphic Design, Culinary Arts, and Computer Science.
Getting a degree that gives you computer or marketing skills will allow you to get an online job as a freelancer.
Start Again With Higher Education
Although a criminal conviction can be a significant setback in someone’s life, those determined to better themselves can still pursue a college degree.
While ex-offenders might fear a college will reject them based on criminal history alone, that shouldn’t stop them from applying. If they’ve worked to improve themselves and positively contribute to their community, the effort will show in the application.
Freed felons should also contact local nonprofit organizations to simplify the application process.