Can Felons Attend College in The U.S.?

Can Felons Attend College in The U.S.?

A moment’s indiscretion when you were young and desperate can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Your besmirched past doesn’t need to be a permanent obstacle on the path of a promising future. Everyone deserves the light of education.

If you believe in the transformative power of education, and have the potential and ambition for foreign education in America, you might be wondering if it is even possible with a criminal record.

Can felons attend college in the US? What about international students with a criminal record?

Yes, You Can! Depending On the Severity of Your Crime, That Is.

Breaking the law doesn’t imply the same degree of punishment across the board. Not all crimes are treated equally.

If you have committed a misdemeanor, your chances of getting admittance both into the country and its colleges remain unaffected. However, as to whether felons can attend college in the U.S., that may or may not be possible.

Criminal misdemeanors that might be excused include:

  • drunk driving
  • shoplifting
  • trespassing
  • petty theft
  • prostitution
  • simple assault
  • vandalism
  • reckless driving
  • indecent exposure
  • possession of cannabis for personal use

It is difficult to determine if all such conduct will be treated with remission by the college you’re applying to, but the odds are in your favor.

Felonies that will likely result in visa eligibility include:

  • murder
  • rape
  • burglary
  • sale of illegal drugs
  • kidnapping
  • arson
  • terrorism
  • crimes against the government (like tax fraud)

Needless to say, colleges accepting you is also highly unlikely. Even if they do, unless you plan on doing an online distance course, it doesn’t matter, since you can’t enter the country, anyway.

The point to note here is that visa inadmissibility can be hard to figure out. In U.S. immigration law, there is something called a “sentencing exception.” This is when a foreign national convicted of only one crime and sentenced to jail for a maximum of less than one year in that jurisdiction is exempt from criminal inadmissibility.

You never know until the U.S. consular officer makes this determination. So, don’t let a criminal record discourage you from applying for a visa. You might just get lucky.

Now the prime question…

How to Apply to an American University as a Felon

The procedure for college applications isn’t different for international students with a criminal record. But there are some extra measures they can take for a smooth proceeding.

If you hold a criminal record, pay heed to the following tips:

  • Your first and most crucial step is getting admittance into the country. If you manage to secure an F-1 visa with a waiver that writes off your criminal visa ineligibility, you’re on the right track.
  • It will be challenging to enter a college with competitive admissions. They will surely favor students with a clean background, so only apply to schools with high acceptance rates.
  • Write a phenomenal essay to improve your chances. Include your criminal history, and show that you’re ready to give it your all for a chance to turn your life around.
  • Some schools run a background check, so do your research about this if you want to apply. If you feel your crime is serious enough for a school to reject you, then don’t apply to such schools. It’s prudent to apply for a college and degree that doesn’t require a preliminary background check.
  • If you do apply to a college that runs background checks, honesty is the best policy. Never lie on the application or an interview if you are asked about a criminal conviction. Cooperate with your college and admission counselor.
  • When you tell your story, do it earnestly. Make it clear that you regret your mistake and have learned your lesson. Don’t try to justify your crime. Understand that your chances are slim if your crime was related to violence or sexual offense, no matter how minor the incident.

Courses and Professions That Are Not an Option for You

It is common sense that a felon charged for manslaughter cannot become a doctor.

The nature and severity of your crime dictate the professional paths available to you. For instance, an individual with a past of petty theft and shoplifting might not be accepted into a law school.

So, although most U.S. colleges will accept you, some courses and degrees are forever out of your reach. We would advise you not to push your luck with this, since getting admission is not the end of the story. Even if you manage to squeeze into such a course, your career opportunities would still look bleak.

For instance, a quick background check on a law graduate who turns out to have a criminal record would mean an instant rejection by most law firms in the U.S. Your degree will be like a bump on a log then.

We suggest not to pursue a career in any of the following fields:

  • Education
  • Law (judiciary)
  • Pharmacy
  • Finance 
  • Law enforcement (executive)
  • Child care
  • Health care
  • Retail
  • Government

You will require a license in most of these professions. One that will be excruciating to attain with a criminal record, if not entirely impossible.

Promising Alternatives to Turn Your Life Around

Your wild past is of no consequence if you bake cakes for a living.

There are several degrees that don’t require a background check, simply because it is not a concern in these professions. The good news is there are plenty of such career options.

If international students with a criminal record apply to colleges to do not require a background check, their admission rate will be significantly greater, as will be the promise of their careers.

Take your pick among any of these professions, and choose a suitable course that aligns:

  • Freelancer
  • Computer technology
  • Electronics
  • Graphic Design
  • Artist
  • Scientist
  • Vocational fields (contracting, construction, mechanic, electric, plumbing)
  • Architecture
  • Entertainer (singer, dancer, actor)
  • Translator
  • Counselor
  • Engineering
  • Entrepreneurship or Business
  • Psychology
  • Culinary Arts
  • Management
  • Film and TV industry

You will find many more options if you do the digging. You might even create a new profession for yourself.

As you can see, the hope for a better future is yours for the taking. A respectable U.S. college degree, a fulfilling job, and a gratifying lifestyle await you. Don’t disqualify yourself.

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