I am a Formerly Incarcerated Student

People with certain criminal history records may not be able to study or work in certain fields, especially heath care, finance, or fields that involve working with children.  This depends on your record.  For example, if you have drug offenses on your record, you probably won’t be accepted into a pharmacy school.  If you have been convicted of theft, financial institutions such as banks may be less likely to hire you.  Colleges also research criminal backgrounds before accepting students.  For this reason, it is important to be honest, and find out about your options before spending money and time taking classes to prepare for a particular job. On the other hand, don’t assume that you won’t be able to study or work in the field you want. Even if you had problems when you tried to get a job in the past, most people with criminal history records are still eligible for financial aid and can get into college.  If your record contains only misdemeanors, or if your offenses are from a long time ago and you have had no problems since then, you may not have difficulties.  And, even if a criminal record might prevent you from getting some jobs, earning a college degree is one of the best ways to give yourself options to work in other jobs.

Applying to College and Jobs

The Applying to College section will provide you with all the information you’ll for the college application. But for a formerly incarcerated student, there are few more things to keep in mind.

  • Talk to the director of the program at the school you are thinking about.
  • Attend a college information session and speak privately with the presenter afterwards about your own criminal history record, and find out if you can be accepted into that program.

If you are looking for work, remember that some employers can legally choose not to hire a person with a particular criminal history, for a certain amount of time after the conviction.  This can be a good situation for you if your offenses are old enough, or if the employer likes you and needs your skills.  Here are some important steps to take before you start your job search:

  • Educate yourself about what exactly appears on your criminal record (see below).
  • Know how to present your record in the best way during an interview
  • Make a folder with letters from probation officers, clergy, counselors, treatment professionals, or anyone (except a relative) whose opinion would be respected.  Ask these people to write about why they think you won’t commit a crime again.  Ask them to explain that you are now working hard and trying to be a valuable member of society.

How To Get Your Criminal Record, Interpret It, and Clear It Up

It is very important to get a copy of your criminal record so you can see what schools and employers may be able to learn about you, if they have permission to look at your records.  Most states have an office where they keep criminal records.  To find these offices, go to the National HIRE website and look in the Resources and Assistance section:

National HIRE

National HIRE is both a national clearinghouse for information and an advocate for policy change. Click on your state to find agencies and organizations that may be of assistance in providing job-related and legal services, answering questions arising from having a criminal record, or offering referrals to other useful organizations.

Ask at the state criminal records office if they have all of your records. You may need to go to the individual agency that put the items on your record: the local police, the county jail or house of corrections, or the parole board for example.  You may have to pay to get a copy of your records.  The records have codes that can be difficult to understand, so be sure to ask what they mean.

Another reason it is important to see your records is that there are often mistakes.  There may be inconsistent or untrue items, and perhaps crimes you were acquitted of or that were dismissed, or other special situations.  You may be able to have some items sealed (most people won’t see it on your record because it is old or the case ended in a good way for you), or expunged (removed).  Some crimes, such as sexual assault, may stay on your report for life.

If you committed a felony and went to state prison, you may be able to get a pardon or a certificate of rehabilitation so you can get back rights and privileges you have lost.  You may need help from a lawyer to do these things.  You can look on the NationalHIRE website, (described above), to find one. Also, some training programs will help you with this process for free.  For example, STRIVE is a organization with affiliates in 18 U.S. locations offering services such as training, job placement, and career advancement to ex-offenders and others.  For more information, visit their website.

How A Criminal Record Effect College Tuition Aid

You are still eligible to apply for financial aid with a criminal record. Most eligibility limitations are lifted once you are released, meaning that your chances for receiving aid greatly increase. For many scholarships you are not asked to provide your criminal record. However, on the FASFA there is a section that will ask whether you have had a drug conviction while you are receiving federal student aid. For information on how to answer this go to the FASFA  and Grants and Scholarships pages.

Check out Back to School: A Guide to Continuing Your Education after Prison for more tips on going back to college!