Aim of this information
This information aims to set out the university application process and points to consider if you are applying for a course with a criminal record. It’s part of our information on universities, colleges and education.
Why is this important?
Access to education and training can be crucial for those with a criminal record who want to move on with their lives. Getting qualified and skilled in a particular field can be a way of overcoming the difficulties in employment. However, it’s important to know whether you need to disclose your criminal record and if you do, what impact this is likely to have on your being offered a place.
Going to university or into higher education is an option considered by many people with previous convictions especially as universities are considered more welcoming towards people who simply want to learn.
Although this may be the case, universities do still ask about criminal convictions. For many courses this only relates to unspent convictions. The main exception to this is for courses which require further disclosure because of the nature of the profession studied, and in particular placements that may be involved in the course.
There is a useful publication by Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) which is titled Criminal Convictions – Statement for Good Practice. This sets out some guidance for higher education institutions.
Making a university application through UCAS
Most higher education institutes will ask questions around criminal convictions at some point during the application process. Full time undergraduates will usually need to apply through UCAS.
What questions do UCAS ask about criminal records?
UCAS ask all applicants the following question in relation to criminal convictions. The UCAS question in 2014 was:
To help the universities and colleges reduce the risk of harm or injury to their students and staff caused by the criminal behaviour of other students, they must know about any relevant criminal convictions that an applicant has. Please read the following carefully.
If you have a relevant criminal conviction that is not spent, please tick the box; otherwise leave it blank.
If you tick the box you will not be automatically excluded from the application process.”
What is a relevant conviction?
The UCAS question asks about ‘relevant criminal convictions’. UCAS state that relevant criminal convictions include convictions, cautions, admonitions, reprimands, final warnings, bind over orders or similar involving one or more of the following:
- Any kind of violence including (but not limited to) threatening behaviour, offences concerning the intention to harm or offences which resulted in actual bodily harm.
- Offences listed in the Sex Offences Act 2003.
- The unlawful supply of controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking.
- Offences involving firearms.
- Offences involving arson.
- Offences listed in the Terrorism Act 2006.
If your conviction involved an offence similar to those set out above, but was made by a court outside of Great Britain, and that conviction would not be considered as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you should tick the box.
If your conviction is unspent but does not fall into one of the above categories, then you should not tick the box.
Applying for an ‘ordinary’ course
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, once your caution/conviction is spent you won’t need to disclose it if you’re applying for the majority of university courses (for example, any course which wouldn’t involve working with children or vulnerable adults). To find out whether you’re conviction is spent, use our disclosure calculator or see our ‘Is it spent?’ poster.
If your conviction is unspent but doesn’t fall into one of the relevant offence categories, then you don’t need to disclose it.
Applying for a course involving an enhanced DBS check?
If you are considering a course which is closely linked to a profession which would be exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (those which would involve working with children or vulnerable adults) then the university will usually undertake an enhanced Disclosure and Barring check. These courses will usually involve a placement where students will be engaging in regulated activity or will work unsupervised with children or vulnerable adults. Examples of likely courses would be those in health science, teaching, social work etc.
In this case, you will need to disclose all cautions, warnings and reprimands together with both unspent and spent convictions unless they are eligible for filtering.
If you are applying for these types of courses, UCAS state the following:-
Criminal conviction declaration
This course has entry requirements which may require you to disclose further information regarding any spent or unspent convictions or any past criminal activities, and may also require a criminal records check. Further checks may also be required under the Disclosure and Barring Service.
If you have spent or unspent convictions from a court outside Great Britain, additional checks may be carried out depending on the records available in respect of the applicable country. A criminal records check may show all spent and unspent criminal convictions including (but not limited to) cautions, reprimands, final warnings, bind over orders or similar and, to the extent relevant to this course, may also show details of any minor offences, fixed penalty notices, penalty notices for disorder, ASBO’s or VOOs.
Please tick if you have any spent or unspent convictions or other punishments that would show up on a criminal record check.”
How will the university handle my application if I disclose a criminal record?
If you disclose a criminal record, you should not automatically be excluded from the application process.
If you disclose a relevant unspent conviction at the application stage the university will normally write to you asking for additional information to enable them to carry out a risk assessment.
Details of your criminal conviction will usually be passed to an appointed person at the university who will then consider it separately from your academic and achievement information. You may be asked to provide additional information to the university to assist them in the decision making process.
Universities will use the process of assessing your criminal convictions to determine whether:
- Based on the evidence provided, it is judged that you pose an unacceptable risk to the university
- You are able to meet the particular professional or statutory requirements that exist for some courses.
If they are satisfied with the information you have provided, your application will be processed in the usual way although, it may be decided to add additional conditions to the offer.
If your application is refused, you will be notified of the decision and you should be provided with details of how to appeal it.
What if I receive a conviction after I have applied to the university?
If you are convicted of a criminal offence after you have applied, you will need to inform the university. You may be asked to provide additional information.
Appealing a university’s decision to allow you to study
There is no automatic right to appeal the outcome of an admissions decision. However, if you can provide additional relevant information to support your application which you did not originally submit, then many universities will be happy to take this into consideration and may reconsider your application.
When making a final decision, the panel will consider:
- The nature of your offence and whether it is relevant to the course you’ve applied to study
- If there is a pattern to your offending behaviour
- The recommendations of any of your referees
- Any mitigating or aggravating factors
- Any comments about your risk of re-offending that was mentioned in any pre-sentencing or other official documentation.
When appealing a decision, you should:
- Provide evidence that you’ve taken responsibility for your choices and you’ve sought to address your offending behaviour
- Describe what you’ve done since the time of your offence – for example any new skills or qualifications or work experience
- Reassure the university that you don’t pose any risk to their students, staff, visitors etc
Some other points to consider:
Put yourself in the position of the university and make sure that where you can, you provide evidence to back up your argument.
Some students have unrealistic expectations about what will happen if they are successful. Be prepared for the university to place some additional restrictions on you.
Some degrees awarded by a university will lead to a professional qualification and you will need to demonstrate that you have the appropriate skills and attitudes required for entry into the profession. Where there are concerns about your suitability to gain entry into a profession, the university may wish to put you through a Fitness to Practise procedure. Your university will provide you with details of how they will go about this.
Getting a placement
Some courses will require students to complete a placement which effectively means that they will be ‘working’ in these organisations whilst completing their course.
Some universities will have concerns that as a result of an individuals criminal record, it will be difficult for the university to secure a placement for them.
Some students have managed to secure their own placement, independently, and show this as evidence to the university, and this can often help in persuading the institution.
Other issues a university may consider
A university may be willing to accept a student with a certain conviction but might believe that the individual would be unlikely to be able to practice within the relevant professional occupation at the end of the course. They may feel therefore that it would not be appropriate to offer the individual a place. They may be able to provide the applicant with an alternative, more suitable course.
The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.
Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.
- Disclosure and Barring Service carry out standard and enhanced criminal record checks.
- Open Book aims to improve equality in and access to higher education for the broad population who perhaps for institutional, structural and cultural reasons would not consider higher education or would find barriers to their aspirations in approaching the higher education sector. The Project’s target group includes ex-offenders, people with a history of mental health issues, recovering addicts and single parents.
- Convict Criminology is a movement which started in the USA by ex-convict professors of criminology and criminal justice. They focus on helping, advising, and counseling, ex-convicts and felons that want to attend university. They mentor felon and ex-con students all over the world. They do this for free, and have been doing so for many years. They mentor all the way through BA. MA, and PhD. More recently, a UK branch of Convict Criminology has begun to grow, and although it is in its early stages, it has the potential to bring an exciting new perspective to the academic sector. If you have convictions and are an academic in crime, criminology and related areas, you may want to consider getting in touch with them. Visit Convict Criminology UK.
- Institute for People with Criminal Records – The Institute’s mission is to engage diverse stakeholders, including collaborations with the business and law enforcement communities, to advance equal justice in various ways.
- Practical self-help information – More information on universities and colleges and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
- To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine.
- To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum.
- Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on promoting the fair admission policies by universities and colleges.
- Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.
Help us to add value to this information. You can:
- Comment on this information below.
- Send your feedback directly to us.
- Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online peer forum.
- Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.
- Help our policy work – promoting the fair admission policies by universities and colleges