Recently I went to a job agency that assists people with finding jobs. My career coach encouraged pursuing higher education. The agency is government funded and they basically help people with barriers find employment. One of those barriers are criminal records. He tried explaining to me it's a great idea.

I went with the intentions of getting a job in the trades, like carpentry, but I truly don't want to do that at all. My answer to him on why I wasn't planning to receive a higher education was because I was afraid of the judgement I would get from people. And in the long run it would be a waste of time because there so many people without criminal records competing for the same positions.

I'd like some real world perspective on this. Is he wrong? Or am I the only who needs a reality check?

Here is more backstory.

  1. I was 19 when I got arrested.
  2. I was an alcoholic/weed user (only for a few months)
  3. Tried to rob a bank and subway store with a demand note. I was so blackout drunk that I went to the subway. When they didn't want to give any money I went to the bank a minute walk away and tried there and they gave me money. (like $500 bucks)
  4. Now I'm 24, finished probation last year.
  5. Haven't reoffended or got in trouble ever since. (I spent around 10 months in prison and I'm genuinely afraid to ever go back.)

Given this backstory, there's not much leeway when it comes to justification. It shows I was irresponsible and dumb. This is also in Canada, where we have a record suspension system. From what I've looked up, people with backgrounds worse than mine (like sexual assault) have received record suspensions.

In Canada, if you commit a summary offence it takes 5 years for a record suspension but an indictable one is 10 years. You can think of summary offence as misdemeanors and indictable ones as felonies.

Given this backstory, would you think its a bad idea to pursue a degree? My plan is definitely in a STEM field. However, all of what I've seen online seemed to show none of them are friendly to past convicts.

  • 5
    The intention to pursue a degree is itself a rebuttal of prejudice. I do not know whose judgement you are afraid of, but as a teacher, I can assure you I neither know nor care about past criminal records of my students
    – Miguel
    May 13 at 19:18
  • I don't think that the premise that you will face more prejudice at a university than you would learning a craft is accurate. But if it were, I suppose the answer to your question would depend entirely on what you want from life. Do you want to have a shot at a career you find fulfilling, at the cost of having to overcome your fear of being judged for your past – or do you want to avoid dealing with your fear of being judged, at the cost of pursuing a career path that you do not like? May 13 at 19:33
  • In any case, if you are worried about facing prejudice based on your criminal record, I would imagine you would get the most accurate and honest answers by directly reaching out to someone who has already faced the same problem. Most people here can only speculate about the experience of students with a criminal record. May 13 at 19:36
  • 1
    Is your agency coach able to put you with anybody who has already taken this path? This seems like a situation where peer mentorship might be helpful. May 14 at 2:48

4 Answers 4


Yes. If murderers and other people who committed crimes can publish research and make breakthroughs, no reason you can't. I indirectly know someone who has a criminal history (had way rougher of a life than mine), and now they're a PHD candidate in crim. So, if it is what you want, pursue it. Who you were is not who you must be going forward.

So long as you can do STEM work at a professional academic level, then most people won't care and won't ask, in fact.


Typically, college educated people tend a bit more to socially progressive views, which a priori includes the belief that rehabilitation should be the centerpoint of the criminal justice system. I'm not claiming that you won't be judged in academia, but I'd expect there to be less judgement, not more, compared to society overall.

In your particular case it should help that on the "stupid vs evil"-scale your crime is quite far to the "stupid"-side. If you complete a university degree, then the claim that you have substantially changed since you were 19 seems very, very convincing to me.

If I understand you correctly, then you can get a clean record in 5 years from now. Getting a university degree would take up most of that time, and if need be, you could continue for a Master's afterwards and then approach the job search with good qualifications and a clean slate.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Further comments continuing discussion, offering opinions, or inciting debate will be removed.
    – cag51
    May 13 at 20:49

Absolutely yes. Many colleges welcome such students, and in my experience they are usually highly motivated. Since you are done with probation you wouldn't even need to negotiate attending night classes with your PO (something I've had to help a student with). Some colleges even have a designated person or office for dealing with any special issues. One such student even created a web page to help others.

One of the interesting things about a college degree is that people care a lot less about what happened before your degree. So if you get good grades and good references from faculty that will help with a good job and grad school options.

One thing that I would say, is that you don't have to lead with this information when you start meeting people on campus, just like you might not reveal other personal information to people you have just met. But also find your support system. For example, on my campus there are some faculty members who also teach in prison or who have other relevant experiences. I always try to let people know that they are the ones to go to if you need support.


To offer a different perspective: if you don't get a degree, what are you going to do?

Ultimately everyone needs to earn money to put food on the table. You having a criminal record doesn't change this. You still need to find a job somewhere, and a criminal record is almost surely going to make it harder. It's probable the employer will wonder if you can contribute positively, since the criminal record indicates you can't.

A degree helps because (especially if you do well) it demonstrates that you've left your criminal past behind. It indicates you've learned new skills. It gives you opportunities to demonstrate you can contribute positively to your university (e.g. via extracurricular activities). It also gives you the opportunity to get references from your professors. All these things will be very helpful to getting a job.

Accordingly, in a vacuum, the answer is 'yes'. The real question when it comes to pursuing a degree is: can you financially afford it?

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