If your parents always told you to stay in school and stay out of trouble, they were right. That's because if you got into trouble with the law as a teenager, then you might have a very hard time getting into college. It's certainly not impossible to get into college with a felony on your record, and if you can demonstrate your intention to do better, there are people and higher-education institutions that can and will accept you. You just need to know where to start.

Can You Go to College With a Felony or Misdemeanor?

If you're wondering, "Will a misdemeanor affect college admission?" or if you're wondering whether you can go to college with a felony, know that a misdemeanor or felony may limit your chances of college acceptance, but it is not impossible. While there is no law saying that you can't go to college with a misdemeanor or felony on your record, it is up to the school's discretion whether or not they want to let you in.

College admissions are already competitive, and in many cases, it's more likely that they will choose someone without a felony or misdemeanor over someone with a felony or misdemeanor. However, they do look at applications on a case-by-case basis, and if you have a strong enough application that demonstrates your desire to change or that you learned from your mistakes, then there's a chance they'll take you. Keep in mind that colleges will likely restrict anyone from coming who has a felony associated with violence or sexual offenses.

How to Get Into College With a Felony or Misdemeanor

If you want to go to college but you have a felony or misdemeanor, all you can do is try. First and foremost, do not lie on your application if you are asked about your criminal history. Honesty is the best policy, and many schools run background checks anyway. Usually, you can explain what the charge was for. If you do get accepted into a school, it might be hard to pursue a degree in law, education or medicine depending on the nature of your felony or misdemeanor. For instance, if you've been charged with anything related to moral turpitude, which is essentially fraud or lying, then you usually can't get into law school.

The best way to get into college with a felony or misdemeanor is to meet with guidance counselors and admissions counselors as well as with various state programs that want to help ex-convicts. See what options are out there for you. Talk to them about your goals, and they can help you find schools that are more likely to accept your application, with tuition costs that aren't too high. You will also need to do a little more than the average applicant:

  • When you write your college essay, think about how the content shows your ability to change for the better. Have others look it over and give you feedback.
  • Gather recommendation letters from teachers or adults who have seen your positive attributes and capabilities.
  • Volunteer and get involved in your local community, as it looks good on applications.
  • Do research about which schools and programs are a good fit for you based on your credentials.
  • Schedule an interview with the admissions office. If they ask about your conviction, be honest and talk about how you learned from it. 
  • Ask questions about what programs and resources are available for students on campus. If you're someone who needs extra support, it's important to know what's available.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to apply so that you can take your time on the materials required for applicants.

Programs and Colleges That Accept Felons

There's no magic list of colleges that accept felons. Schools decide whether or not to let someone in based on the overall character of the applicant and whether or not he's met the requirements. However, there are certain programs and solutions that you can look into where you may have a better chance of being accepted.

  • Consider online schools and programs, like Colorado Technical University, Kaplan University or Capella University. These are sometimes easier to get into than physical colleges. 
  • Try applying to programs at a community college instead of just applying to four-year schools.
  • Avoid applying for programs that require a license, like teaching or nursing. Unfortunately, even though you may get accepted to a college for these programs, you usually cannot obtain a license with a felony or misdemeanor charge on your record.
  • Take a look at trade schools. 

Are There Scholarships for Felons?

One of the biggest obstacles that stands in the way of those with a criminal record who want to go to college is the costs. College in the United States is very expensive, and most students seek out financial aid and grants from the federal government in order to help them pay for school. Unfortunately, if you have a felony or misdemeanor on your record, especially if it's related to drug charges, then you are usually not eligible for this aid and will have to find other means to pay for school.

That being said, there are some loopholes. If you are a felon who is still in prison and you want to study, then you can be eligible to receive aid through the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Federal Work-Study program. If you are not incarcerated but you have a drug charge, you may be eligible to receive federal aid if you complete an approved drug rehabilitation program or if you pass two drug tests by one of the approved rehabilitation facilities. There are no guarantees, but it's worth inquiring.

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