Written by Joanna Hughes

Many people view college as a fresh start. Until now, however, the Common Application, created in an effort to simplify the admissions process, could also be seen as a barrier to entry for one particular segment of applicants: those who have been convicted of crimes. Now comes news that the Common App will stop asking students about their criminal histories, thereby opening the door to many students.

Here’s a closer look at the development, along with what it means, as recently reported by The Atlantic.


A Significant Move

More than millions of prospective college students, the vast majority of them in the US, use the Common App to apply to college every year. By eliminating questions about applicants’ criminal histories, the Common App “could alter the life course for many students with higher-education aspirations who have a misdemeanor or felony attached to their name,” says The Atlantic.

Specifically, low-income students of color -- who are disproportionately more likely to have criminal records -- stand to benefit. And while it is not possible to know how many prospective students' lives will change, insiders say the decision supports “access, equity, and integrity.”

This is not to say all colleges that use the Common App will look away from criminal history information. Rather, colleges can seek to obtain this information via other means, such as through application supplements.

But What About Campus Safety?

Concerned that ignoring applicants’ criminal histories will make college campuses unsafe? The US Department of Education’s report, “Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals,” indicates that there’s “little compelling evidence” associating collecting criminal histories with safer campuses.

Not only that, but the report suggests the benefits of eliminating criminal history questions extend beyond applicants with records.

“Students who have previously had involvement with the justice system often exhibit the ability to overcome challenging circumstances and deal with obstacles in ways that many traditional college students couldn't imagine. Consequently, these students are able to bring a unique perspective to classroom discussions with their peers,” explains the report.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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