In 1989, the Clery Act was passed in response to a college campus assault of a freshman by another student. Since then, colleges and universities are required to keep and disclose records of criminal activity committed on their campuses. In 2006 the “common application” came into use as a way to collect criminal history information from applicants, under the assumption that people who have already committed crimes pose a higher risk to students. More than 500 major universities use the common application to screen applicants.
What kind of question do colleges ask about criminal offenses?
While significant violent acts and felonies are at the top of the list of questions asked by colleges about criminal history, many schools also ask about misdemeanors such as shoplifting, minor and personal drug, marijuana, and alcohol possession offenses, and other infractions
What happens when a criminal history is listed?
If a qualifying criminal conviction is admitted to, further investigation is normally the outcome. The college may ask for the applicant’s rap sheet, arrest reports, or other information about the event, and may be asked to answer personal and probing questions about the case. This can be extremely humiliating and discouraging for would be college applicants. Ultimately, applicants with criminal records are routinely denied admission at many colleges. It may not be an automatic disqualifier, but it is a consideration for most screening processes.
What counts as a “conviction”?
A plea of guilty or no contest will result in a conviction, even if a severe sentence is not enforced and the matter is resolved with a fine penalty or a requirement for community service or probation. Unless the verdict was “not guilty” or the case was expunged, there can be a conviction on your record. Files on juveniles may be sealed, but there is no guarantee that all records will come up empty.
Don’t plead to a lesser charge just because it’s offered.
In many cases, a “first offender” without appropriate legal counsel may be encouraged to plead guilty – often to a lesser charge – and throw themselves on the judge’s mercy. While this can result in a mitigated consequence, like a fine or a mandated class to take, it does still result in a record. Even a lesser charge can mean a misdemeanor on your record you can’t afford if you want to get into college.
Conviction reversals are rare and unlikely.
Avoiding a conviction is much easier than hoping to have a conviction reversed. If you have been arrested on a criminal charge, no matter how small, your best chance of emerging with an unscathed record is to seek representation from a qualified defense attorney. A good lawyer can help find cracks in the prosecutor’s case, and help you avoid ending up with an undeserved criminal record that can prevent you from pursuing your dreams.