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Can Felons Go to College? Learn About Your Second Chance


As a person with a criminal record, you might be wondering, can felons go to college? Good news — the answer is yes! You will need to pay attention to the program and degree you choose, and may need to take special steps during the application process. However, going to college with a felony is absolutely possible and is a great opportunity to move up in your life.

Can You Go to College With a Felony?

Absolutely, you can go to college if you have a felony.

While it’s true that it may lower your chances of getting into some colleges, many schools will still accept applicants with criminal convictions. There is no law or regulation barring criminals from attending college. It is up to each individual school to make their own choice.

With competitive admissions, some schools may not accept, but if you choose a school with high acceptance rates and write a great essay, your chances of going to college are pretty good.

Getting Accepted to College With a Criminal Record

Some schools do run background checks on applicants, so it is important that you do not lie on your application or in an interview if you are asked about a criminal conviction.

Most schools are particularly interested in knowing if their future students have a violent past or history of sexual offenses. Make sure to cooperate whenever asked, and work with your admissions counselor to better increase your chances of college acceptance.

Man with backpack walking through college door
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Grants and Scholarships for Felons

Can You Get Financial Aid With a Criminal Conviction?

Those with a criminal record may not be eligible to receive federal student aid or Pell Grants. If you are on probation or parole, you may still be eligible, depending on the offense. But there are still plenty of scholarship opportunities available for those with a record.

How to Make College Affordable

One way to afford higher education is to attend a tuition-free college. University of the People is a fully accredited, 100% online, tuition-free university.

Plus, flexible study options make it possible to work while you’re in college. You can also save money as a college student by renting textbooks, dining in, and taking advantage of student discounts.

Programs and Colleges That Accept Felons

It is up to each individual college whether or not to accept those convicted of crimes. Once you are accepted into a college, you may also have to apply to a program where your background may be checked again.

Depending on the crime, felons may want to or need to avoid college programs in areas of education, law, finance, or medicine.

How to go to College With a Felony

Can felons go to college? Absolutely, all you need to do is try. Don’t lie about your past on your application — honesty is best. You also may want to meet with an academic advisor or guidance counselor to help you through the application process.

Other steps include:

1. Look For a College

Start looking for colleges in your area, or online, that you are interested in. These could be state schools, community colleges, online schools, etc — just make sure they are accredited! Also, think about the program you want to study and research which schools have that program.

2. Make a Financial Plan

One of the biggest obstacles facing any college student, but particularly those after jail time, is making college affordable. You may be eligible for some federal loans, but not all.

A great solution is to attend a tuition-free university such as University of the People. With any school you attend, meet with a financial aid advisor to see what your options for paying for school are.

3. Enrolling in College With a Felony

Find out about application deadlines, and enroll in several schools to make sure you are accepted into one that fits. Some schools have rolling admissions, which means you can apply and hear back at any time.

4. Make the Most of the College Experience

Your college experience is what you make it, and you have the opportunity to really make it count when it comes to your future. During your program, get to know your teachers and colleagues, and try to keep up with student interest groups. You may also think about getting an internship or work experience during your program. Towards the end of your degree, make sure to meet with your school’s career center to get you ready for post-graduation life.

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Best Jobs If You Have A Criminal Conviction

The best types of jobs for felons are ones that may not require background checks, allow you to be your own boss, or provide plenty of opportunity for upward mobility within the industry. There are jobs that you may be ineligible for, depending on your conviction, in fields such as healthcare, law, education or finance.

Check out these top 10 job picks for felons:

1. Freelancer

As a freelancer, you can work from home doing anything you are good at. You get to choose your own hours and work for yourself. Make a list of things you are good at, how you can improve on them, and how you can make a career from it.

  • Degree: Communication, Design, Business, Marketing, or anything you are interested in
  • Average Salary: $64,000

2. Counselor

If you have passed through a difficult period of your life, help others do the same. You will likely be able to use your experience to become a great counselor. Counselors can make their own hours and potentially work for themselves as well.

  • Degree: Psychology, Counseling, Human Services
  • Average Salary: $41,500
Counselor and care seeker sitting at table
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3. Electrician

Electricians install, repair, and maintain electrical systems for homes, businesses, and buildings. Qualified electricians can make a great salary with vocational training only.

  • Degree: Vocational program, Electrical Engineering
  • Average Salary: $55,000

4. Architect

If you’re interested in construction, how buildings are made, and have a knack for design, architecture could be a great field for you. Salaries can range on the higher end, and there is great opportunity for upward mobility.

  • Degree: Architecture, Design, Construction Management
  • Average Salary: $79,000

5. Web Designer or Developer

As a website designer or developer, you will apply learned code to create beautiful, functional websites for individuals or companies. You may be able to teach yourself how to design websites, or you may opt for a degree or bootcamp.

6. Entrepreneur

Have you got an amazing business idea, and the drive to get things done? Entrepreneurship might be for you. Start with your idea, make a business plan and run it by some people you trust. A degree or certificate in business will make you more likely to do well.

7. Chef or Baker

You can opt to be a personal chef, a home baker or work in a restaurant, cafe or bakery. Either way, if you have a knack for food and love to create, entering the culinary industry might be the right choice for you.

  • Degree: Culinary Arts
  • Average Salary: $60,000
Two chefs working in the kitchen at a restaurant
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8. Robotics Engineer

The field of robotics is booming right now, so this is an excellent field to join. Help design and build robots, games, or prosthetics as a robotics engineer. As artificial intelligence grows, more robotics engineers will likely be needed.

9. Computer or Mechanical Engineer

Both computer and mechanical engineers help design and build the systems we use today. If you’re great at math and problem solving, engineering is for you. With high starting salaries and room to grow, this is an excellent field to enter.

10. Environmental Scientist

Also known as a conservation scientist, the world is in need of them! As companies and organizations become more aware of the growing needs of the environment and customers demand accountability, this field will grow.

  • Degree: Environmental Science, Sustainability and Conservation
  • Average Salary: $51,000

Best Online Degrees for Felons

Online study is a great way to get a degree while working or even if you are currently incarcerated. All you need is a computer and a connection, and you can do everything remotely.

University of the People student studying online class with laptop
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Computer Science Degree

With this degree, you will be prepared for a career in technology, ranging from IT to coding to engineering. At University of the People, we prepare students for the workforce by providing real-life applications and mentorship programs.

Online Business Degree

When you study business, you have many options available to you after you graduate in areas of management and entrepreneurship. Many successful business people have overcome a challenge that somehow led to their success, and you can too!

Design Degree Online

Whether in graphic design, fine arts, architecture, web, or any other areas of design, this field is great for felons. Coursework will include color theory, design concepts, and you will likely create a portfolio to jumpstart your application process.

The Bottom Line

Can felons go college? Yes they can! With special care during the application process, meeting with guidance and financial counselors, and making the most of the college experience, anyone with a criminal conviction can go to college, have a career, and be a success.