While there are many different college careers for felons, you should think about what jobs will be available to you after you finish your degree.
The right college degree or technical training can greatly boost your chances of getting a high paying job if you have a felony.
For example, ex felons have a very hard time getting jobs in the medical field, such as doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, etc.
Most jobs in the fields of psychiatry and psychology are also rarely available, with the exception of a substance abuse counselor.
Similarly jobs in education, finance, as well as law are generally not open to felons. The majority of licensing boards will not grant a license to a felon, even if you have the appropriate degree.
Top college degrees for felons
If you have a felony conviction and are considering pursuing a higher education so you can get a better paying job, choose your career carefully.
This guide will help you figure out what type of education you should pursue, colleges you can apply to, as well as possible career options that don’t require a degree or professional training.
First – answer the following questions:
– Did you steal money or property? If so, you can’t do accounting, or any other finance/banking related job.
– Did you drink an drive and kill someone? Well, here you have to rule out degrees that lead to jobs where you have to drive people around.
The main thing to remember is that most companies will want you to be a back-end employee. This means that you will most likely not be given responsibilities where you would have to deal directly with customers, sensitive information, or money.
Of course you should also think about your own talents, current skills and interests. For example, if you have limited mathematical abilities, you probably should not pursue high-tech jobs.
Computer science / programming
One of the best degrees you can get is computer science. There is a real shortage and a huge demand for quality developers and software engineers.
This is especially the case if you live on the East Coast (Boston, New York, DC, Maryland), on the West Coast (Seattle, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Jose), or in any major metropolitan area around USA.
Software developers can get starting salaries at $60K or more, even with a degree from a 2nd tier school (most state colleges/universities and even community colleges). Overall, the IT sector offers the most high paying jobs for felons.
Given your criminal background, it may be possible to get a job by negotiating a slightly lower starting salary, if the employer “closes their eyes” on your conviction.
Mobile computing and app development
This is one of the most rapidly growing niches within the broad field of computer science. More and more people around the world have smart phones and tables, so there is an ever growing demand for programmers that deal with mobile data and services.
Developing new apps (including games) for both Android and Apple platforms is a particularly hot field.
Today, app developers easily earn salaries of $70,000-85,000 a year, or more.
Data base support and analysis
This is another highly lucrative degree with a very promising job outlook. More and more companies require dedicated data base analysts, cloud storage programmers and specialists. As governments, and corporations rely more and more on cloud-based data, there will be a growing demand for professionals who can provide support and run all related operations.
Salaries in this sector start at $45,000-55,000 a year , but senior data base analysts can earn as much as $130,000-160,000 a year.
You probably love playing video games on your phone or computer, right? Well, someone created and coded this game and got paid for it:) This is another very popular field in software development, and jobs will continue to increase in the coming years.
Starting salaries range from $65,000-80,000 per year.
Freelance work (no background checks, work from home)
The good news is that even if you can’t find a job at a company, having programming skills opens a ton of freelance job opportunities online. You can do contracting / outsourcing work on platforms like Upwork / Odesk / Elance, Guru.com and many other similar short term job market places.
Most “employers” on these websites PREFER American developers over Asian / Indian / Eastern European programmers. But Americans are often MUCH more expensive. So as a developer in the US, you can charge lower prices in the beginning, and then build up your resume/portfolio and raise your fees.
Best of all – there are NO background checks when you do outsource / freelancing work!
Here is Entrepreneur.com top 15 freelance websites list for you to see where you can find freelance jobs.
Missing from this list is Fiverr, but I would not recommend this, as it’s mostly commodity work with low payouts.
Note 1 – Upwork, Elance and Odesk is now the same company.
Note 2 – I’m not a fan of Freelancer.com – they are not very good in conflict resolution, and have some B/S recurring charges that can wipe out you earnings … so be aware of those if you want to give it a try. But I’d recommend to stay away.
See our full guide on how to become a freelancer:
Freelancing has NO BACKGROUND checks!
I’ve personally used Upwork/Elance and Freelancer to hire people to do work for me … I would strongly suggest Upwork, out of these two. But definitely also check out other sites on the list!
If you don’t have the skills, you can obviously take necessary college courses / certificate programs or learn the skills you need with very inexpensive video tutorials on Udemy.
Both computer and mechanical engineering are very promising degrees for someone with a felony. You can eventually work in a factory, programming and building robots instead of operating them, making a decent income.
These jobs are currently in very high demand, and the more you learn, the more companies will want you to work for them.
Once again – you can do outsourced work as an engineer on the same websites as programmers use (Upwork / Odesk / etc).
Professional engineers get average pay of $65,000-90,000 per year to start, and usually earn over $110,000 after working for over five years.
Robotics and automation services
This is a growing sub-field in engineering, because in the 21st century the use of robots and automation is becoming a part of everyday life. Most companies use robots and smart machines to cut down on the costs of human labor and increase efficiency. Consequently, there is a huge demand for people who will design these machines, and provide technical support on the ground.
This field has a very large job pool, with salaries starting at $50,000 per year and all the way to $120,000 for high-end engineers.
If math and computers are not your cup of tea, you can consider a job in the booming environmental sector.
Since there is more awareness about the need to preserve our environment and work out protocols for conservation, companies are hiring professionals to spearhead these efforts. There are both private and government jobs available.
Average pay is $45,000-60,000 per year.
Becoming an architect is a great option if you are interested in construction and design. There are tracks for commercial or residential architecture and many niches within this broad field. Starting salaries are $60,000-75,000 and the job outlook is very good, especially in large metropolitan areas.
Car / truck / equipment mechanic
A mechanic is more of a trade / specialized degree or training, but many community colleges offer these programs. Mechanic jobs pay anywhere from $15 to 30 per hour.
Since there is little to no customer interaction, many companies are willing to hire felons – especially privately owned garages and repair shops, as well as small manufacturers.
So this is an excellent line of work for felons, with “better” pay and many employment options!
The main thing to keep in mind is that you CAN get a degree, if you wish. Education or training will help you get further in life. Just make sure you have a clear plan for the type of work you want to pursue after you are done with your education.
Careers felons should avoid
While someone with a felony CAN get the following degrees, finding a job in one of these fields will be nearly impossible.
Also, keep in mind that if you take out a loan to pay for college, you will need to pay it back, and that will be very hard if you don’t get the job you were hoping for.
- Sports training
- Massage / Therapy / etc
- Any line of work with customer/client interaction
Colleges accepting felons
Once you figure out what type of degree you want to get, the next step is which college you should attend. Many felons worry that their criminal background will prevent them from being accepted into an accredited college. The good news is that its not true and most colleges, technical and trade schools do accept people with felonies.
Some colleges ask about an applicant’s criminal background on the application, others avoid this question all together. If your college application has this question, you should be honest about your past. Most schools will not turn you down on the basis of previous convictions.
Admissions officers review each application as a whole and make a determination on a case by case basis. Many institutions of higher learning believe that felons deserve a second chance and are willing to enroll them into an appropriate program.
However, if your criminal history consists of serious violence, assault, sexual misdemeanors and drug sales you will not be admitted to an on-campus program at many colleges.
If you are worried about being turned down because of your felony, consider online college degrees and certificate programs. These are more lenient in terms of the candidates they accept.
In addition, online education offers more flexibility in class scheduling, you don’t have to be physically present on campus, and a lot of studying happens at your own pace.
Moreover, online degrees are often a lot cheaper than the same degree you would get from a college or university. If you plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree, expect to pay $12,000-18,000 per year for an accredited online program.
Top accredited online schools
SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University)
Oregon Institute of Technology
Saint Leo University
Alternative Work Options For Felons Without A College Degree
If the prospect of getting a professional degree does not excite you, there are many jobs an ex-felon can get without going to college.
Check out our list of over 200 companies that hire felons without prior experience or education. There is usually minimal on-the-job training provided, many part-time and full-time opportunities and you can start right away.
The best places to look for these jobs are: Craigslist, Indeed.com and Ziprecruiter.com. If you are wondering about how much a particular job pays, as well as its pros and cons, a good place to look for this information is on Glassdoor.com.
Also, its a good idea to sign up with local temp agencies, as they can also help felons find good jobs.
Out of prison, your goal should be to get into a job, whatever it may be. Once you start working and have a steady pay check coming in you will get a major self-esteem boost and worry a lot less about money (especially if you have a spouse and kids).
At that point, you can catch your breath and start setting long-term career goals for yourself. Even if you don’t want to go to college or get a professional degree today, this may change one or two years from now.
If this article has helped you out in anyway please share it on your social media, or email it to others who are struggling to get work. Together we can help felons find out what college degrees and jobs they should pursue.