With a couple of exceptions, convicted felons have access to the same college aid as any other United States citizen. If you were convicted of a drug possession or distribution offense while receiving federal financial aid, you need to complete a drug rehabilitation program and pass two drug tests for your application to be considered. If you were convicted of a sex offense and are subject to civil commitment, you need to look for other sources of financial aid.
How to Apply
Whether or not your conviction is in one of the categories that prohibits you from receiving PELL grants and federal loans, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA). Colleges use this form to determine your eligibility for private and state-level grants and loans, most of which do not discriminate or even ask about a criminal record.
Drug Offenses and the FAFSA
If you answered "Yes" to the FAFSA question that asks whether you have been convicted of a drug-related offense, or left the question blank, the Federal Student Aid office of the U.S. Education Department will send you an eligibility worksheet that will help you determine your eligibility date. The only convictions that affect eligibility are those that took place while you were enrolled in school and receiving student aid. Even if the worksheet indicates that you are not immediately eligible, completing a rehab program run by a federal, state or local government agency, or eligible for funding from such agencies or their approved insurance companies, and passing two drug tests will restore your eligibility.
Private and State Scholarships
Only one nationally publicized scholarship, the Charles W. Colson scholarship offered by Wheaton College in Illinois, is specifically targeted to ex-offenders. It's restricted to Christians whose convictions did not involve arson, sexual offenses, or habitual violence, and applicants must not be under psychiatric care or taking psychiatric drugs. Other opportunities may be available from private corporations that need workers in the field you'd like to study, from nonprofits that serve other groups you may belong to, or from state or local organizations that deal with re-entry issues. Most don't care about who you were yesterday, but about who you want to become.