Whether you were involved in a protest, pulling a prank, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may have come out of the process with an arrest on your record. While an arrest is not a criminal conviction, the fact that you were arrested is viewable in some states, and many people worry that a youthful mistake may affect their ability to pursue the college education of their dreams.
Here’s what you need to know about arrest records and how they may affect college applications.
Many Colleges Still Ask
According to a report by Community Alternatives, 66% of colleges collect criminal justice information, including information about arrests and convictions. However, not all of these schools use the information when deciding whether or not to admit students.
The most-commonly used college admissions form is the Common Application or “ComApp.” While ComApp makes it easier to apply to college by allowing you to fill out one application and send it to multiple schools, this app – and many other college admissions forms – still ask about a criminal record.
The Common Application contains questions about applicants’ criminal backgrounds and disciplinary records, according to Inside Higher Ed. The system allows colleges to choose whether or not they receive your answers to the questions – but it does not currently allow you to avoid answering them.
Fortunately, the Common Application asks only if you have been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. If you were arrested but acquitted or the case was dismissed, you may still be able to answer “no” to this question in good faith.
Colleges Sometimes Ask for More Information than Employers Do
If you’ve looked for a job with a juvenile or adult arrest history, you may have discovered that most employers don’t ask about arrests. They only want to know if you’ve been convicted.
While some colleges do limit their queries to your past convictions (if any), others ask for far more information. For instance, they may ask about juvenile adjudications. Since juvenile records are handled differently than adult ones in many states, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to disclosing juvenile records.
A Criminal Record Isn’t Always an Automatic “No”
According to Community Alternatives, even though most colleges still ask for criminal background information, most don’t make their decision based on this information alone.
“Most schools that collect and use criminal justice information have adopted additional steps in their admissions decision process,” the report states. Instead of simply deciding “yes” or “no,” admissions officers will often take steps to communicate with you if the rest of your application looks promising. For instance, you may be asked to write an essay explaining the circumstances of your arrest. If you were convicted, you may be asked to provide documentation proving you completed probation or parole successfully.
While a criminal record may require you to work a bit harder to complete your application, it doesn’t automatically mean that the school will reject your hard work.
An Arrest Won’t Affect Federal Financial Aid…But a Conviction Might
Merely being arrested won’t affect your ability to receive federal financial aid, including federal student loans and Pell Grants. However, if you were convicted of any drug offense, you won’t be eligible to receive federal financial aid, notes Best Value Schools. A conviction of other types of crimes, however, may not affect your financial aid.
If you have questions about whether or not your past history will disqualify you for financial aid, a lawyer can help you understand the details of financial aid laws and how they apply to your specific situation.
What You Can Do If You Have an Arrest on Your Record
If you’re considering college applications and you have a past arrest on your record:
- Apply anyway. Many schools no longer collect this information or allow the Common Application to send it to them. Even schools that ask for arrest information typically don’t have a “zero tolerance” policy; they’ll consider what happened in the context of the rest of your application in order to determine whether or not you’re likely to succeed in their community.
- Put public and 2-year schools near the top of your list. Studies indicate that 2-year colleges and 4-year public colleges are less likely to ask for a criminal history than their private counterparts. About 70 percent of private schools, 55 percent of public four-year schools, and 40 percent of 2-year community colleges ask for criminal background information.
- Talk to a lawyer. An attorney with experience handling juvenile matters and expungements can help you understand the law in your state. You may be able to have an arrest record sealed or expunged – but you won’t know until you ask.