How a Criminal Conviction Could Affect Your College Career

Depending on the criminality of the underlying offense, a criminal conviction could have serious adverse effects upon your college career and aspirations for higher education. Convictions can adversely affect admission, financial aid and enrollment status.

Do Colleges Do Background Checks On Students?

Yes. Increasingly, colleges and universities are running background checks on college applicants. Depending upon the school’s policies, a conviction could result in a rejection letter.

Furthermore, if you are in attendance and get into trouble, a criminal conviction could lead to getting kicked out of college. Expulsion can occur even if you’re falsely accused but are found to be responsible for the accusation by the university’s Title IX investigators. Continue reading to learn more.

What Goes on a Criminal Record

The standard information included on a criminal background check is as follows:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Known Aliases / nicknames
  • Physical description
  • Current Address
  • Type of Crime
  • Arrests (incl. dates)
  • Fingerprint information
  • Outstanding Warrants
  • Convictions of felonies and misdemeanors
  • Sex Offenses
  • Court Records
  • Incarceration Records

Court records typically include dockets and arraignments, orders and final judgements. If you live in Massachusetts and need to see what’s on your criminal conviction records, visit the Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services online and select iCORI instructions.

Related Q&A: How long will a conviction stay on my record?

Contrary to popular belief, court records and criminal history databases do not get purged on any regular basis. Massachusetts does allow certain criminal records to be sealed, such as misdemeanors after 3 years, or felonies after 7 years from date of conviction or prison release, whichever date is later.

Sealing means the information will be hidden from specific requesters. At the federal level, any arrest that qualifies for fingerprinting is shared into the FBI’s database, where it is stored indefinitely along with any subsequent convictions.

Types of Criminal Convictions and Higher-Ed Consequences

  • Drug Crimes – You will lose your federal grants and work study program if convicted of an offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of illegal drugs for conduct that occurred during a period of enrollment for which you were receiving such funds.
  • Sex Offender Crimes –All states are required under federal law to maintain publically accessible sex offender registries. State entries are uploaded to the national sex offender registry.
    • If convicted of a sex offense in Massachusetts or elsewhere, colleges will have access to the conviction recorded in the Sex Offender database. It will also show on the individual’s CORI.
    • If you are convicted for a sex offense and receive jail time plus hospitalization at sentencing, you are ineligible for Federal Pell Grants.
  • Traffic Crimes –Traffic offenses that carry criminal sanctions include hit-and-run crimes, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence, called DUI or OUI in MA.
    • A DUI conviction could affect your eligibility for scholarships in addition to enrollment. Some colleges enact alcohol violations policies that may apply.
    • You could be prohibited from getting a Student Visa with a DUI or other conviction on your record.
  • Violent Crimes – Violent crimes or crimes which include assaulting a person can be either armed or unarmed offenses in Massachusetts. These types of criminal convictions tend to be the most severe to colleges and universities.
  • Felonies –Any of the above types of offenses can be charged as a felony in Massachusetts.
    • If the offense as charged could result in at least a year of imprisonment, any federal institution and many others will consider it a felony conviction if you plead or are found guilty of the offense.
  • Misdemeanors – A misdemeanor offense can be as adverse as a felony in many instances. If the underlying offense has a drug, alcohol, sex and/or violent component, it can disqualify you from admission, scholarships, and federal grant monies.

Universities may frown upon any one of the above types of convictions. This is why you and your defense lawyer need to think long-term when considering your options toward resolving the case against you.

Beyond these barriers, you can face difficulties finding employment and housing after graduation. Your travel may also be restricted as many countries ban entry to convicts.

Recommended Reading: How a Drug Conviction Can Harm Your FAFSA

Challenges College Candidates with Criminal Convictions Face

If you are convicted of a federal felony, sex offense or violent crime against a person, you will be ineligible for admission into any federal institution such as the Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and all other military programs. Police Cadet Academies will also bar entry, and you may be rejected by private colleges and public universities.

However, some colleges afford grace and second chances to applicants by allowing those with criminal histories to show that they have corrected their course in life and are on a positive path.

You might be asked to describe the incident and what role your criminal conduct played in the offense. If so, you are encouraged to seek professional assistance from reputable college enrollment counselors before submitting your response.

One tip: Don’t overthink and over-explain things by reliving the past. Acceptance of what happened and how it changed you going forward is likely most important. Again, get help from the professionals to increase your chances of acceptance.

Criminal Domestic Violence Records

If you are adjudicated civilly in a domestic abuse, stalking, or harassing case, you can wind up with a criminal domestic violence record if you violate the no contact terms of the restraining order.

This type of criminal conviction can also stem from on-campus relationships and roommate situations. If you receive notice that you are under investigation from the college’s Title IX department, you should not respond to any administrators until you have first consulted with a defense attorney.

If you are served with a Temporary Restraining Order in Massachusetts, you are strongly advised to consult with a criminal defense attorney before going to the 10-day hearing.

This is true whether the accuser is someone you thought of as a friend or an intimate friend, is a family member or a past or present spouse, romantic partner, roommate or co-worker.

Even if police involvement is minimal at the outset, these types of civil disputes can easily turn into criminal complaints. Protecting your present and future quality of life means being proactive now.

Get Help from a Qualified Defense Attorney

When you face legal trouble that causes you to wonder how a conviction might affect your future; it’s time to talk with a highly qualified and experienced defense attorney.

A good criminal defense lawyer will know how to analyze the charges and the evidence from every legal angle so that more opportunities for a good resolution are uncovered. The sooner you put a good lawyer to work on your behalf, the better your chances will be to lessen any negative effects upon your future.

If you are facing criminal charges in Massachusetts Middlesex County, Suffolk County, Essex County, Worcester County or elsewhere in the commonwealth, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I can offer answers to your questions during a free initial consultation.


Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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