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Do Colleges Do Background Checks? If So, Should I Run One On Myself?

Applying to colleges is stressful for the vast majority of aspiring students, and there’s no shortage of reasons why. Students may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of colleges to apply to and not know where to begin. They might be concerned about their grades and the fierce competition out there, or they might worry they haven’t participated in enough extracurricular activities. Naturally, there’s the financial side to consider as well, and the national average for in-state tuition was $11,260 for public colleges in 2019. The last thing applicants need is another stressor in addition to all this.

Unfortunately, a background check may be just that for many students. Colleges will generally perform some kind of background check on prospective students, even if it’s just to check up on grades or credits earned, but none of that should be alarming. A criminal background check, on the other hand, might be concerning for some students, especially those who need financial aid.

Why Colleges Run Background Checks

Colleges have to maintain their reputation both with their students and with their communities, so it stands to reason they’ll take advantage of any methods they can to ensure campus safety. For some colleges, this can include running criminal checks on applicants. In fact, approximately 66% of US colleges conduct these checks, although not all of them factor the results into their final decision. While this can be understandably stressful for applicants with a criminal history, it’s important to remember that a criminal record doesn’t necessarily mean disqualification. Some colleges may use their own programs to conduct background checks, or they may use an online alternative. Many of them, however, just use the Common Application, which includes a self-disclosure section about criminal history and other background information. It’s best to exhibit honesty in these forms.

For four year universities, where students often live in dorms on campus, criminal offenses like sexual assault, drug charges, and violent crimes will be taken seriously. Colleges may also need to take criminal history into consideration if they have specific requirements for admission or certain student organizations. Students need to know if criminal offenses can jeopardize their ability to finish a degree.

Should I Run My Own Background Check?

If you’re wondering what colleges may be able to find about your history, you can certainly run your own check using a service like GoLookUp. A free background check like this will typically turn up any information on the public record, including criminal history. It’s important to note that information here may not be accurate, and it also isn’t intended to be used for things like employment decisions. Still, it can be a good idea to run a check on yourself every now and again to see what other people may find or to discover and correct inaccurate information.

Downsides to College Criminal Checks

While running criminal background checks on college applicants probably seems like a good idea, some argue that these checks can unfairly bar applicants from education or may deny financial aid to qualified students. All students who want to apply for financial aid have to submit a FAFSA form, and criminal convictions can affect eligibility.

Even worse, there’s no guarantee that college admissions workers will read an applicant’s criminal history fairly or correctly. These employees have basically no training compared to law enforcement officials who are trained extensively on how to read a rap sheet correctly. Criminal background checks can turn up crimes that didn’t lead to convictions, but without proper knowledge, a reader may not know the difference.

Whether you have a criminal history or not, you shouldn’t let it stop you from pursuing further education. You can always take an online learning self-assessment to see how well prepared you are for a college course and then take the necessary steps toward acceptance.