How Does Being Convicted of a Misdemeanor Affect the Pursuit of a College Education?

A misdemeanor conviction can feel like the end of the world. Will colleges accept applicants with a criminal record? What about graduate schools or future employers? While there are no universal answers to these questions, here are some general guidelines for getting through life with a misdemeanor conviction.

Citations, Misdemeanors and Felonies

Criminal activity can be sorted into different categories of offense. Citations are usually applied to minor, non-violent offenses like traffic or noise ordinance violations. While these do appear on background checks, colleges are rarely concerned by them. Felonies are serious crimes like rape, murder or robbery. They often carry long-term prison sentences. Misdemeanors are somewhere in-between: Less serious than a felony, but more of an issue than a citation. Some felony convictions can be pled down to a misdemeanor level. Each state sorts crimes differently; for example, driving under the influence (DUI) is a felony crime in Louisiana. Other states classify this offense as a misdemeanor. Common misdemeanors include possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, disorderly conduct or public intoxication. While these may seem like minor crimes to some, it’s important to remember that prostitution, assault, and theft can also be misdemeanor crimes.

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Misdemeanors and College Admissions

Very few undergraduate schools actively discriminate against applicants with minor criminal records. In fact, many universities pride themselves on interacting with people in the criminal justice system. Schools offer sociology courses inside of prisons or even full degree programs to prisoners behind bars. However, there are some barriers for college applicants with misdemeanor offenses. Colleges routinely ask about criminal histories. Applicants with a record may be asked to pay for a background check or required to fill out additional paperwork. Federal student aid has restrictions for students with drug-related histories.

Misdemeanors and Graduate Schools

Like undergraduate schools, master’s and doctoral programs will accept applicants with misdemeanor convictions. However, students with criminal histories may face barriers in completing internships, teaching hours or laboratory work. This is particularly true for medical and nursing graduate programs that require supervised clinical hours. Students with criminal convictions should talk to their programs about clinical placements well in advance. It’s possible for a university to accept a student to a professional program even if the student won’t be able to join the profession. Students should realize that admission to an advanced education program doesn’t guarantee acceptance into the corresponding profession.

Misdemeanors and Careers

Some career paths will be closed to people convicted of misdemeanor offenses. For examples, attorneys are required to pass a character and fitness assessment before becoming licensed, as the National Jurist details. A serious misdemeanor, like a violent crime, may prevent a law school graduate from being allowed to practice law. Medical professionals with misdemeanors related to mistreatment of vulnerable populations or misuse of drugs may have trouble obtaining necessary licenses. Other fields like teaching, accounting and policing can also be difficult for people with a history of misdemeanors to join.

It’s important for college applicants to be honest about their criminal histories. This allows universities to fully assist students in finding the best program for their needs. With the right research, students with misdemeanor convictions can complete college degrees and enjoy rewarding careers.