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How Can I Apply to College with a Juvenile Record?

Graduating from high school is an important milestone.  For those planning to go to college, the application process can be a daunting task.  That process can be made more stressful if you have a juvenile record.  Having a record does not necessarily mean you will not be able to get into college.  However, having a criminal record may influence the final decision of a college admissions committee.  Understanding how to handle this situation can make the process a little easier.

Disclosing your criminal record on the application

One of the first questions clients ask is whether they have to acknowledge their criminal record on the application.  It depends.  If the application asks whether you have ever been convicted of a crime, you only have to answer “yes” if you were actually convicted.  Simply being charged for a crime is not the same and does not need to be reported.  On the other hand, if you were convicted but your record was expunged, you can also answer “no.”  Expungement erases any juvenile convictions you have on your record.

How can I get my record expunged?

Expungement is a possibility for certain defendants if a mistake was made in your case or if the details of your case meet certain criteria. Also, if you were charged but not convicted of a crime, you can also request to have the charge expunged from your record.

Will colleges see my criminal record?

Unfortunately, even though some juvenile records may be sealed, colleges have the right to review juvenile records for application purposes.  But understand that not all colleges take criminal history into account when reviewing applications and making admissions decisions.  Applying to college after a conviction is likely to be more complicated.  However, with the legal advice of an experienced juvenile defense attorney, you can protect your rights and opportunities.

Some people think that a juvenile record is sealed and cannot be seen by anyone or that juvenile records are automatically expunged when you turn 18. This is not the case. There are many situations in which a youth’s juvenile record can be seen by a college, an employer, and the military. As you get older and work to get an education, job skills, employment, and a career, you will want to do all you can to make sure there are no barriers to your success.

This fact sheet provides some of the information you need to know to understand how your juvenile record can affect your future. Please also refer to Juvenile Law Center’s Expungement Fact Sheet. Petitioning the court to expunge your juvenile record as soon as you are eligible is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you have as many chances to succeed in your future as possible. Expungement is not automatic. You need to take action to ensure that is done.

Can colleges or the military find out if I have a juvenile record?

Yes. If you were charged with an offense and adjudicated delinquent it is possible that a college or a branch of the military can find out if you have a juvenile record.

Does having a juvenile record mean I am not eligible for certain colleges or training programs?

Not necessarily. In most cases, having a juvenile record should not affect your eligibility for colleges or other post-secondary programs.

How do I answer if a college or trade school application asks me if I have ever been convicted of a crime?

A criminal conviction is not the same as a juvenile adjudication. If you only have been found delinquent by a juvenile court, you have not been convicted of a crime and can answer “no” to this question.

How do I answer if a college or trade school application asks me if I have ever been adjudicated delinquent?

If you were adjudicated delinquent and have not had your juvenile record expunged, it is important to answer this question truthfully. (For young people who have not expunged their juvenile record, remember to do it as soon as possible. It will make these applications much easier for you.)

If you were adjudicated delinquent and have since had your juvenile record expunged, you can answer “no” to this question.

How do I answer the question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that asks about drug convictions if I was adjudicated delinquent for a drug offense as a juvenile?

Question 23 on the FAFSA asks if you have ever been convicted for possessing or selling illegal drugs while you were receiving federal student loans or grants. If you were adjudicated delinquent for possessing or selling illegal drugs (even if it was while you were receiving federal aid), you can answer “no” to this question because juvenile adjudications are not the same as adult criminal convictions and this question only asks about adult convictions.

Can having a juvenile record be a barrier to enlisting in the military?

Yes. Having a juvenile record can stand in the way of enlisting in the military. Because the branches of the military are federal agencies, they are allowed to apply their own rules and regulations, which may be different from state law. The military can see your juvenile record even if it has been expunged. The military requires “moral fitness” of its soldiers. Having certain juvenile adjudications on your record may lead the military to conclude that you are not morally fit for enlistment based on their regulations.

If I really want to enlist in the military, is there anything I can do if the military says my juvenile record is standing in the way of my enlistment?

If you are told that you are not eligible for enlistment in the military because of your juvenile record, you should ask for a waiver. When you ask for a waiver, you are asking the military to consider all of your strengths; the improvements and progress you have made since your involvement in juvenile court; and your desire to join the military. When you ask for a waiver, it is also helpful to have recommendations from people who know you and can speak about your good character. If you are interested in a career in the military and are being told that your juvenile record is creating a problem, ask about a waiver as soon as you can.


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