If you have ever engaged in disorderly conduct or petty theft, gotten a DUI, been arrested during a political protest, or garnered any other kind of infraction (minor or major) on your record, we hope that you have learned important lessons from the experience and won’t repeat it. But if you are applying to a grad program, you are likely to be asked on your application, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain.”
In this post, we will explain how to portray yourself in the best possible light in this situation, while also outlining how to approach this question honestly, without going overboard. After all, if you have done something stupid, something deserving of a conviction or suspension, you have a higher bar to clear with the admissions committee to prove that you are worthy of their acceptance.
- Don’t try to hide a conviction.
Admissions committees (and the firms they hire) conduct background checks on applicants. An unexplained discrepancy gives them an easy reason to reject your application or withdraw an offer of admission. So, when asked, own up to your behavior. Don’t make excuses.
The biggest struggle you might face is overloading your writing with justifications of your behavior. Even very subtle self-serving statements (“I was still just a junior in college…,” “I felt strong peer pressure to…”) can be read by an admissions committee as a failure to take responsibility for your actions. Leave out the excuses and directly address what you did.
- Don’t go overboard addressing the infraction.
Although you need to take responsibility for what you did, you also want to avoid turning your entire application into an overblown mea culpa. Usually, a well-written response to an application’s “failure” essay question is enough; don’t discuss your mistake(s) in every element of the application – that’s too much!
- Show that you learned your lesson and that your past unfavorable behavior won’t be repeated.
This step tends to be less of a struggle because usually you can express remorse, detail the steps you took to atone for your actions, and show how you have matured as a result of the experience. For example, consider illustrating how you became heavily involved with your community, counseled others who tended toward the same behavior, and otherwise turned your failure into a success benefiting others. It is imperative to show what actions you’ve taken to regain the trust of your peers and work colleagues. A simple “I’m sorry and won’t do it again” is not enough.
Perfect execution of these suggestions will increase your chances of admission but might still not be enough to earn you acceptance to a top school. And it is not just that the school is concerned about your background; future employers are also hesitant to hire someone with a felony charge. In fact, multiple DUI charges can even result in the withdrawal of a job offer. Think twice – and then a third time – before you do something that you could regret for a very long time, and avoid having to deal with this situation altogether.
Are you applying to grad school with a criminal record? Work one-on-one with an Accepted consultant to evaluate your profile, figure out where you should apply, and devise an admissions strategy that will help you present your story in the best light. These actions will strengthen your chances of acceptance. Please visit our graduate school Admissions Consulting Services page for more information.
Dr. Christie St-John has over 25 years of experience as MBA admissions director, career coach and Chief Military Recruiter at Vanderbilt University and Tuck School of Business, consultant at Université de Nice, and adjunct faculty at Vanderbilt. Christie has a deep knowledge of MBA and graduate admissions. Want Christie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding application essays
- “Your Past Doesn’t Define You,” Accepted Podcast Episode 209
- 3 Reasons Why Writing About Overcoming Obstacles Strengthens Your Application Essays