Got a Criminal Record? Here’s How to Address It in Your Application

By - Feb 22, 06:00 AM Comments [0]

Got a Criminal Record? Here's How to Address It in Your Application

If you have ever engaged in disorderly conduct, petty theft, gotten a DUI, been arrested during a political protest, or have any other infractions (minor or major) on your record, we hope that you have learned important lessons from those experiences and won’t repeat them. But if you are applying to a grad program, you are likely to be asked on your application, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain.”

In this post, we will show you how to appear in the best possible light in this situation, while also explaining how to approach this question honestly, but without going overboard. After all, if you have done something stupid, something deserving of a conviction or suspension, you have a higher bar to prove to an admissions committee that you are worthy of their acceptance.

  • Don’t try to hide a conviction

    Admissions committees (and the firms they hire) conduct background checks on applicants. An unexplained discrepancy gives them an easy reason to reject your application or withdraw an offer of admission. So, when asked, own up to your behavior. Don’t make excuses.

    The biggest struggle you may face is overloading your writing with justifications of your behavior. Even very subtle self-serving statements (“I was still just a junior in college…” “I felt strong peer pressure to…”) can be read by an admissions committee as failure to take responsibility for your actions. Leave out the excuses and directly address what you did.

  • Don’t go overboard addressing the infraction

    While you need to take responsibility for what you did, you also want to avoid turning your entire application into an overblown mea culpa. Usually a well-written response to an application’s “failure” essay question is enough; don’t discuss your mistakes in every element of the application – that’s too much!

  • Show that you learned your lesson and that your past behavior won’t happen again

    This step tends to be less of a struggle, because usually you can express remorse, detail the actions you took to atone for your behavior, and show how you matured from your experiences. For example, consider illustrating how you became heavily involved with your community, counseled others who tended toward that same behavior, and otherwise turned your failure into a success benefiting others.

Perfect execution of these suggestions will increase your chances of admission, but still may not be enough to earn acceptance to a top school. Think twice and three times before you do something that you could regret for a very long time and avoid having to deal with this situation altogether.

Are you applying to grad school with a criminal record? Work one-on-one with an Accepted consultant to evaluate your profile, figure out where you should apply, and devise an admissions strategy that will help you present your story in the best light. These actions will strengthen your chances of acceptance. Please see our Graduate School Admissions Consulting Services for more information. 


For 25 years, Accepted has helped applicants gain acceptance to top undergraduate and graduate programs. Our expert team of admissions consultants features former admissions directors, PhDs, and professional writers who have advised clients to acceptance at top programs worldwide including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD, MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley, and Northwestern. Want an admissions expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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