Criminal History and Common App

Criminal Record in Admissions, College Admissions and Criminals, Criminal Record in University Admission

“The New York Times” ran an interesting editorial a couple of days ago on criminal histories in college admissions.

There was an editorial a couple of days ago in “The  New York Times” written by The Editorial Board entitled “College Applications and Criminal Records” that we’ve decided to discuss. The editorial focuses on how many college applicants with criminal records grow frustrated with the college admissions process because they believe they often can’t overcome their criminal pasts and earn admission to their dream schools. We empathize with these students. We imagine it can indeed be frustrating. But we also think of the many applicants who don’t have criminal histories who also face tough odds and frustration in the admissions process. Aren’t these students — these students who have never committed crimes — deserving of our empathy as well? Perhaps even more deservedly so? We’re not sure, but it’s something we’ve contemplated.

According to the piece written by The Editorial Board of “The New York Times,” “Americans who have criminal histories are often stymied when they encounter college entry applications that ask if they have ever been convicted of crimes. The process, which often brings greater scrutiny to people who answer “yes,” is driving away large numbers of people who present no danger to campus safety and are capable of succeeding academically…Heightened concern on campuses about criminal records can be traced in part to the 1986 murder of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old who was killed in her dormitory at Lehigh University. The killer did not have a criminal conviction record. Congress responded by passing the Clery Act in 1990, requiring schools to publicly report violence on campus. The practice of collecting criminal history information on applications became common a decade ago, after questions about an applicant’s criminal convictions were added in 2006 to the Common Application, now used by nearly 500 colleges.”

We believe in opportunities for redemption. But we’re not sure where we stand on this issue because we also believe, generally, that those who have never committed crimes should have a leg up on those who have in admissions. But there are of course exceptions to this rule and for those students who are the exceptions, the Additional Information section on the Common Application is an excellent place to express the circumstances.

Where do you stand on this issue? As you can see, we are entirely undecided. Usually we have a strong opinion on issues related to college admissions but this one is a tricky one. And, to put it simply, we’re torn.

While you’re here, read our newsletter on disciplinary questions on the Common App.


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