Do Colleges Run Background Checks?

During the application process, the majority of colleges will run some form of background check on prospective students. This may be through a background check free method, or they may use other programs. Applying for college is stressful for any aspiring student. You may be confused as to the best colleges to apply to, you may be worried about your grades, and many students worry about the possibility of not receiving any acceptances at all. Add the possibility of a criminal background check on top of that, and things can get even worse.

While not every college will conduct a criminal background check, it’s estimated that 66 percent of colleges do conduct some form of criminal background check on at least a portion of their applicants. Having a criminal history won’t necessarily result in disqualification, however, and roughly 38 percent of colleges don’t actually factor the criminal history into their final decision. Many colleges simply use the common application which includes a self-disclosure section regarding any criminal history. It’s always important to be honest on college applications and to avoid withholding information.

Reasoning for college background checks

Colleges have a reputation to maintain with their communities and their students. They will naturally do thorough background checks on any potential hires for the good of student safety. Their main reason for running background checks on applicants is the same—the safety of the campus comes first.

Students, particularly in four-year universities, will often live on campus in dorms. Because of this, colleges take offenses like sexual assault, drug-related charges, and violent crimes seriously. Colleges also perform background checks to ensure all applicants’ educational history aligns with the college’s standards and goals. This is important for both general admissions and college organizations and affiliations. Certain employment opportunities offered to students, for example, may require similar criminal information that would be required of any standard employee. Being ineligible to work in such programs could bar some students from finishing their degree, so it’s important to have this information from the beginning.

Why criminal checks are controversial

While conducting a criminal background check on applicants may seem like a good idea for campus safety, many argue that these checks may unfairly bar students from pursuing an education, or they may deny financial assistance to otherwise qualified students. While those seeking aid are always recommended to submit a FAFSA form, having drug charges or other criminal charges can significantly affect your eligibility.

It’s also not a guarantee that an applicant’s criminal history will be read fairly in the first place. College employees who look at students’ criminal history are frequently not trained on how to conduct these checks or read the results. This runs counter to essentially any other industry, especially law enforcement, where employees are trained extensively on how to properly read and judge a rap sheet. Offenses that didn’t lead to conviction, which should have no bearing on college safety, may also appear on these background checks.

Managing application stress

Whether you’re a high school student applying to your first colleges or a previous student looking for an RN-BSN program, there’s no avoiding all of the stressors that come from your application. It’s important to be open to multiple colleges instead of pinning all your hopes on one. There are plenty of options out there these days, and you may even be able to research their background check policies. Different colleges sometimes have different policies on financial aid, as well, so you can shop around and see which ones fit your background best. Don’t forget to take breaks during your applications. No matter how important college is, overstressing never yields good results. 

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