What You Need to Know About Getting an Advanced Education with a Criminal Record

What You Need to Know About Getting an Advanced Education with a Criminal Record - Attorneys Broden Mickelsen LLP

Is it possible to go to college and get an education with a criminal record? In most cases, yes. Here’s what you need to know about student financial aid and college background checks with a criminal record.

When someone has been convicted of criminal charges, he or she still has the responsibility to make decisions about his or her future. For instance, you can decide if this is the end of the road for your criminal career or if recidivism is in your future. Contrary to what is often thought by the general public, those with a criminal history often want to get their lives on the right path, and for some of them, this involves getting an education. The question is if it’s easy, or even possible, to get an education with a criminal record.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Justice tells us that the recidivism rate for those with a criminal record is quite high. After following a group of offenders that had been released, 83 percent of them had been arrested at least once in the following nine-year period. The longer the period of time that passed, the higher the rate of recidivism became. We can look at this and propose the idea that the sooner someone takes positive steps to improve their lives, the better. (1)

Going to college to earn a degree or attending a program to receive career training can be a significant step in the right direction. However, having a criminal record can make the process of getting an education more complex. If you have a past criminal record and don’t want it to restrict your future educational opportunities, you should start by speaking with Broden & Mickelsen, LLP today.

Being Approved for Financial Aid with Criminal Charges

Higher education is expensive, and most everyone who pursues a college career will seek financial assistance in one form or another. One of the first places many people turn to for student aid is the federal government. However, some stipulations pertain to being approved for financial aid with criminal charges in your background.

Eligibility for financial student aid can be affected by criminal charges and is largely dependent upon the type of charges that you were convicted of. According to the U.S. Department of Education, here are a few of the guidelines for being approved for financial assistance with a criminal record. (2)

  • Any person currently serving out a sentence of incarceration in a state or federal institution is ineligible for federal student loans or Pell Grants.
  • Any person currently serving out a sentence of incarceration in a state or federal institution is eligible for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant or the Federal Work Study.
  • While eligible, incarcerated individuals have a lower chance of being approved for these grants due to the logistics of carrying out the required programs while in a state or federal facility.
  • Anyone serving a sentence in an institution other than a state or federal facility is ineligible for federal student loans.
  • Anyone serving a sentence in an institution other than a state or federal facility is eligible for a Federal Pell Grant.
  • Individuals who are on parole, probation or living in half-way house facility are eligible for federal student loans and Pell Grants, except under certain situations.

In most cases, when you’re released from incarceration, any eligibility restrictions for federal financial aid and Pell Grants are lifted. The exception to this is when your conviction involves a drug-related offense, or you have been mandated to involuntary civil commitment for a sexually related offense.

Limitations on Financial Aid with a Drug Conviction

The most significant restrictions for furthering your education apply to those seeking financial aid with a drug conviction. Anyone convicted of a drug-related offense may undergo a period of suspension from receiving federal financial aid. For a first offense, it is possible to regain eligibility by participating in and completing an approved drug rehabilitation program. In some cases, it might also be possible to have eligibility reinstated by passing two unscheduled drug tests which have been administered by an approved facility or rehabilitation program.

After a person has received three convictions for possession, or two convictions for the sale of illegal drugs, they are then deemed indefinitely ineligible for any type of federal student aid.

What About College Criminal Background Checks?

You might be wondering if an educational institution can legally request information about your criminal history. The answer is yes, a college criminal background check before acceptance is a perfectly legal request. According to one study from several years ago, more than 60 percent of colleges consider criminal history when making admission determinations. (3)

There are two main things to remember here. The first is that by not agreeing to a background check when asked, your application may immediately be denied. Second, it’s never a wise idea to lie about your criminal history. Your goal is to rebuild your life, and that entails being honest about your past.

Most colleges that consider criminal backgrounds are most concerned with violent and sexual offenses. Being honest about your past is the best policy, and if one college doesn’t accept you, the best approach is to keep trying until you find one that will.

Speak to a Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’re ready to rebuild your life, start by speaking to a Dallas criminal defense attorney who can help you understand more about the legalities of getting an education with a criminal record. It’s important to remember that a criminal past doesn’t have to dictate your future and speaking to someone with the legal expertise to help you can be the first step to turning your life around.

Media Contact:

Dallas Best Criminal Defense Attorneys
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
(T): 214-720-9552


  1. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/18upr9yfup0514.pdf
  2. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/criminal-convictions
  3. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Experts-Debate-Fairness-of/66107/


Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.