Having a felony conviction may nullify some of your rights, such as owning a gun, but a criminal past does not need to stand in the way of your education. Even the obstacle of financial need can be overcome by convicted felons through college scholarships and grants, which do not need to be repaid. Convicted felons can use means available to traditional students to apply for scholarships coupled with programs specifically for ex-offenders. Even incarcerated felons may apply for assistance.
Discuss your education plans with your parole agent. Your parole agent has information about both common and specialized financial assistance programs for ex-offenders. Even if you have completed parole, you may still qualify for assistance.
Apply to the college of your choice. For parolees, check your parole conditions to determine how far you can travel to attend school. Be aware that your conviction may bar you from entry to certain schools. With your application, include any evidence of reform since your conviction; for example, completing drug rehabilitation or making restitution. Get as many personal references in writing as you can -- ask friends, former teachers, ministers, your employer and anyone else who can write a positive letter about you.
Arrange a meeting with the financial aid office of your college once you are accepted. The college financial aid office provides federal and state forms necessary to file for financial aid in addition to offering assistance with completing scholarship and other educational aid applications. When making your appointment, ask to speak to a person familiar with the challenges faced by convicted felons. Check for a scholarship reference section where you can research additional scholarships outside of state and federal aid. Look at your college's website -- a listing of available scholarships and applications often can be found there.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Many scholarships, both state and private, use this form in their qualification process. Fill out the form online (see Resources) or print out the form to complete by hand. Your college financial aid office will also have copies of the application, or you can obtain a copy by calling the Federal Student Aid office (see Resources). Question 23 of the FAFSA asks about drug convictions. Convicted felons with this type of criminal record will need to complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if federal financial aid can be awarded.
Visit both your college and local library to check reference works for scholarships. Both locations house catalogs and databases that may lead to additional private financial aid opportunities. Also check the Federal Student Aid website and use the Scholarship Wizard (see Resources). Private scholarships have their own requirements based on a variety of factors. Your felony conviction may not bar you from applying for this additional educational assistance.
- Check with area churches. Some may have special programs for convicted felons.
- Complete all rehabilitation options open to you. As a convicted felon, you need to show that you have moved beyond your former life.
- Be honest when completing all applications for educational financial assistance. Lying on the forms can result in a denial of aid, expulsion from college and additional charges for convicted felons.
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