The point of this article is not to tell you that you shouldn’t engage in disorderly conduct, petty theft, or other minor (or major) infractions (though you really shouldn’t…); what we want to discuss here is how you should overcome the obstacle of a criminal record when approached with the application question: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain.”
If you did something stupid, something deserving of a conviction or suspension, how do you prove to an admissions committee 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, and 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 on your application.
Don’t Make Excuses
The biggest struggle you may face is overloading your writing with justifications of your behavior. Even very subtle self-serving statements can be read by an admissions committee as failure to take responsibility for your actions. Leave out the excuses and directly address what you did.
Don’t Go Overboard Addressing the Infraction
Avoid turning your applications into overblown mea culpas. Usually a well-written response to an application’s “failure” essay question is enough; don’t discuss your mistakes in every element of the application – that’s too much!
Show That You Learned Your Lesson and That Your Past Behavior Won’t Happen Again
This step tends to be less of a struggle, because usually you can express remorse, detail the actions you took to atone for your behavior, and show how you matured from your experiences. For example, consider illustrating how you became heavily involved with your community, counseled others who tended toward that same behavior, and turned your failure into a success benefiting others.
Perfect execution of these suggestions will increase your chances of admission, but they may not be enough to gain you acceptance to a top school. So avoid having to deal with this situation altogether: think twice and three times before you do something that you could regret for a very long time.
• From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding application essays
• Your Past Doesn’t Define You, a podcast episode
• The Importance of Obstacles in Your Application Essays