North Carolina, like many states, identifies criminal offenses as either a misdemeanor or a felony. While misdemeanors are viewed as less serious than a felony, both convictions can be followed by a prison sentence or fines. For college students, especially those applying for grad school, jail time or other consequences can sharply cut into their education. Felony convictions not only hold the consequence of fines and jail time, but young adults may face another dilemma: A screeching halt to a student’s college career and beyond.

Consequences of felony convictions

In North Carolina, depending on the class, felonies hold the possibility of jail time. The length of a prison sentence depends partially on the seriousness of the charge. A first-time offender may get a minimum of three months, while repeat offenders could face more time. North Carolina also enforces a “three strikes and you’re in” law that can put third-time offenders in prison for life without parole. Although first-time offenders face less jail time, felony sentences typically include fines if damaged or stolen property is involved.

What a felony means to higher education

Following a felony conviction, collateral consequences may entail a loss of rights. In North Carolina, a person who is convicted of a felony cannot own a firearm, enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces or vote while serving a sentence. For recent high school graduates or students applying to graduate school, a felony conviction could affect the college admissions process.

According to the University of North Carolina Regulation on Student Applicant Background Checks (Section 700.5.1), undergraduate and graduate admissions staff screen applications for safety questions. Examples of these questions include:

  • Have you been convicted of a crime?
  • Have you received a deferred prosecution or prayers for judgment, to a criminal charge?
  • Do you have criminal charges pending against you?

Other possible limitations of a criminal record

The Dean of Students Office staff will determine, after questioning and possible background checks, whether the applicant poses a threat to the safety of that college or university. While a felony does not ban anyone from applying to undergraduate or graduate school, the application process itself may be challenging. Often universities will require that students update their criminal records if the status changes. Federal government does not always offer financial aid, student loans or grants to students who have felony convictions.

Pursuing a college education after a felony conviction

It is still possible to achieve a college or graduate school education after a misdemeanor or felony charge. Campuses use criminal background checks to keep students safe. Many schools are considering policies that evaluate applicants fairly and consistently. This does not always simply require a background check, but further research and documents from the applicant. Admissions counselors at various institutions are willing to look beyond a criminal record when accepting students.