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College Admissions and Criminal Records

Involvement in criminal activity can do a lot more than just complicate a high school student's present circumstances; it can also severely affect their future and chances of going to college. In a study conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 66 percent of participating colleges reported that they collected criminal justice information on applicants, either through the application itself or by conducting a criminal background check. It found private schools were more likely, at 69.9 percent, to collect criminal justice information than the 51.3 percent of public schools. Still, 38 percent of the schools reported that they do not collect or use criminal justice information in any way, 36.4 percent of which were public institutions and 16.1 percent private.

Of the schools that do collect criminal justice information from all applicants, 62 percent report that they make use of the information. When it comes to the admissions decisions, 74.4 percent of private schools make use of the information, compared to 43.4 percent of public schools. Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that criminal convictions are considered negative factors when it comes to the admissions process. Those having any criminal justice related history will be automatically denied admission by 18.2 percent of institutions. Some schools only automatically deny admissions depending on the nature of the criminal record, with 12.4 percent rejecting applicants with felony convictions, 15.3 percent those with violent convictions, and 16.8 percent those with a sex offense conviction.

But having a criminal record doesn't always mean an automatic denial and most institutions take the time to review these types of applicants. While 6.1 percent use the same process that they would with any other applicant to come to an acceptance decision, 19.3 percent make a decision only after ordering a background check, and 46.1 percent order a review by a special panel committee. For at least some applicants with criminal records, 74.9 percent of institutions obtain information from others besides the usual decision makers like campus security, housing directors academic officers, risk assessment personnel, and counseling or mental health staff. Most schools, almost 70 percent, even have special requirements for applicants with criminal records. Around ninety percent of schools require that the applicant write a letter of explanation, while 63 percent want a letter of recommendation from their probation officer or corrections official. An interview is required by 54.8 percent of schools, completion of community-based supervision by 38.7 percent, and 18.3 percent want to review official criminal justice documents.

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