Going to college is a milestone in the lives of many young people, but this is also a very stressful period. Choosing the college and preparing yourself to potentially leave home is exciting, but it can also be frightening at the same time. There are lots of different things to think about, including whether you can afford it, whether you will fit in, whether you will be able to do the coursework, and more.
Colleges Now Conduct Background Checks
Unfortunately, there is now an additional issue to worry about, which is that colleges are now performing background checks on applicants. For some people, and particularly those with a slightly checkered background, this can lead to significant stress. They may worry that they will be rejected because of mistakes they have made in the past. Luckily, a problematic past or even a criminal record does not automatically lead to a rejection.
A study has revealed that 66.4% of colleges across the country now perform random criminal background checks. However, 38% have stated that a criminal history does not automatically mean they disqualify an applicant. The study was completed in 2013 by the Center for Community Alternatives and it is believed that the results have not changed dramatically over the past four years.
Although it is true that around two thirds of colleges will perform a background check, they usually don’t investigate things very thoroughly unless they have reason to do so. In most cases, the Common Application is used, on which a self-disclosure question is included where applicants can divulge their criminal past. This is generally the only background check that a college performs, with just 20% saying they will conduct a more formal one as well.
This does not, however, mean that you should lie on the application form or even lie by omission, hoping that it won’t get checked anyway. Colleges trust you to be honest, a core value that they want to instill in all students. In fact, finding out that you lied will make it far more likely that you will get rejected than having a criminal record.
Why Is There a Need for Background Checks?
There are several reasons as to why a background check may be conducted, although most colleges do it to ensure the safety of their students. This is particularly true if students live in dorms with others, at which point it needs to be known whether anyone has had any drug or alcohol arrests, violent convictions, or has been convicted of sexual offenses. Sometimes, background checks are required as part of the affiliation agreements of a college.
Furthermore, it is common for students to be required to do voluntary work in local organizations, internships, and/or work-study programs. These external organizations will often run background checks, as they would for any non-student member. Thus, colleges may run the check preemptively, to make it easier for students to access those opportunities.
Lastly, there are certain courses where passing a background check is a requirement. These include many care professions, such as nursing, medicine, or psychology. With these professions, the nature of a past offense is more important, which means that someone with a criminal background may still be accepted.
Indeed, for virtually all colleges that perform background checks, the nature of the convictions and crimes is important. Sometimes, certain criminal behaviors will exclude students from working in certain organizations and this may mean that they would not be able to complete their degree. Examples are degrees that prepare students to work with vulnerable members of society. In these cases, failing to pass a background check will mean getting denied acceptance into the college. This is a further reason to be open and honest on your application, because if your past convictions do not come to light at that point, they will once you join the workforce, which implies that you will not be able to use your degree anyway.
What It Means for You
The important thing to takeaway from all of the above is that a criminal background does not automatically mean that you will be rejected. It all depends on the type of check that is conducted, the type of crime that you committed, and when you committed it.
But what if you feel that your checkered background may indeed prevent you from getting to the college of your choice? Or what if you have been unjustly accused or convicted in the past? What is usually recommended here is to make use of the services of companies that are capable of removing personal information on the internet, especially from sites that make a business of providing background information on people.