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Author Topic: Grad school application and legal woes  (Read 3588 times)
anisogamy
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« on: November 27, 2012, 5:00:41 PM »

I'm faculty, but my college doesn't have graduate students and I've never worked on anything related to admissions.

Someone close to me got what is essentially an underaged DUI arrest that was successfully pled down to a traffic offense of failure to exercise due caution.  Her alcohol limit was well within what would have been the legal range had she been over 21 and she was pulled over due to a burned out tail light rather than due to any erratic driving behavior--they only breathalyzed her because she got nervous and jittery about being pulled over.  I point that out because this isn't part of a broader pattern of troubling behavior--she's basically a good egg who has this one blotch on her record.

In addition to the charges being successfully pled down, part of the court arrangement was that the record was supposed to have been expunged by now.  She just got her criminal history check for part of her grad school application (to a counseling program) and found that it hadn't been expunged after all. 

The form only asks if she's pled guilty to anything more than a minor traffic offense, and she hasn't--but the original arrest, with a DUI charge, still shows up in her criminal records check.  How does she go about appropriately disclosing this in her application?  How much detail should she go into?
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systeme_d_
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2012, 6:21:31 PM »

Anisogamy, I used to direct a grad program, and in my experience, students {understandably} get all worked up about this issue when in truth, it is usually not much of an issue at all.

1) The applicant should almost always disclose his or her record, but should pay special attention to the language in each university's application instructions, because they differ.  In most places, all convictions, barring minor traffic violations like speeding tickets - should be disclosed.

1a) The disclosure statement should be exceedingly brief, and entirely confined to facts.

2) In most cases, unless the information reveals the profile of a dangerous criminal that the university lawyers believe should be kept off campus, the arrest record will have NO bearing upon admissions.  

3) There are some exceptions to #2.  For example, the self-reported criminal records of applicants to grad programs in education, nursing, counseling {programs that have a vocational or licensure component} are screened more closely than others.  For this reason, I would strongly encourage the applicant in question to be both forthcoming and precise in her self-report.

Let me make this part perfectly clear: In the universities with which I am familiar, it is the Director of Graduate Studies in each department {NOT a Graduate School administrator} who receives the self-reports of each applicant to their department.  They are NOT allowed to disclose this information to the other faculty on the admissions committee.  {Technically, they are supposed to read and then shred this information.} However, they ARE encouraged to speak to the university lawyer/s about any applicant whose self-reported criminal record makes them wary of admitting that person to their program.  Many universities enable Directors of Graduate Studies - especially those in vocational or licensure fields - to use their professional discretion, and remove seriously frightening files from consideration for admission.

Personally, over a span of many years, I never saw a file that was worthy of talking to the lawyers, or removing the applicant for consideration.  

I was, however, surprised by the rather high percentage of applicants who did have arrest/conviction records.  I committed many criminal acts when I was young {it was the 70s and 80s, so use your imagination}, but I was never arrested for anything, so the sheer unluckiness of so many applicants was indeed astonishing!
« Last Edit: November 27, 2012, 6:24:41 PM by systeme_d_ » Logged

systeme_d_
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2012, 6:25:25 PM »

One additional fact:  It is PATTERNS of criminal activity that worry directors of grad programs, not single incidents.
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melba_frilkins
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2012, 7:01:58 PM »

For the programs that lead to licensing requirements, the student should find out whether he or she would pass the background check that is done by the licensing board. Their criteria are not always the same as that of the local program. That is, a student can potentially gain admission to a program but then not be eligible to be licensed in the field.

You would think that a good program would screen out, or at least alert, such applicants, but that's not always the case.
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chaosbydesign
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« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2012, 7:41:07 PM »

One additional fact:  It is PATTERNS of criminal activity that worry directors of grad programs, not single incidents.

It's lucky I never got caught, then!

(Kidding. Maybe.)
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2012, 8:52:48 PM »

For the programs that lead to licensing requirements, the student should find out whether he or she would pass the background check that is done by the licensing board.

You would think that a good program would screen out, or at least alert, such applicants, but that's not always the case.

Some licenses are done by state boards, and requirements are not identical in all states.
Records for many things are indeed expunged after a certain amount of time, and once that happens the background check comes out clean -- which could allow a program to admit a "non-habitual" "criminal" with the assurance that if a new offense were not committed, the license would go through in two years or three years or however long the program is.

(This information is based on what I heard over Thanksgiving from a nephew who is a VA counselor and whose current job is helping recently discharged veterans gain admission to suitable programs in health professions. In other words, he's doing or helping them do what Melba Frilkins recommends.)
« Last Edit: November 27, 2012, 8:55:04 PM by seniorscholar » Logged
msparticularity
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2012, 10:57:30 AM »

In addition to reporting the incident accurately on the appropriate form, I would suggest enclosing a copy of the court ruling or some other official document showing the disposition of the case. That will provide confirmation of the story and, in my experience, truly make it a non-issue for the department. (We run into this kind of thing with teacher licensure candidates all the time.)
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proftowanda
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2012, 11:21:05 AM »

A brief explanation definitely ought to be included to downplay that the record (and records are so easily accessed these days) may show an initial charge that was more severe (and may have been overcharging).

Example:  A few years ago, Towanda Dotter and a friend were having no luck for many weeks in obtaining an apartment.  Finally, one of the landlords turning them down turned out to be someone I had met and someone who also had met and liked my daughter, so I called to ask if the landlord if she could share the reason for refusal.  She actually appreciated it, as she felt bad about turning down my daughter, but said that the reason was that the friend had a hit-and-run on her record.  I was stunned, knowing the friend and her family for many years.

It turned out that the friend had, in her first week of driving many years before, hit a garbage can in an alley.  But the police had wanted to give a new driver a good scare for driving away so had called it a hit-and-run!

 
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chaosbydesign
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2012, 1:51:34 PM »

So, what are you supposed to do when you hit a garbage can? Call the police?
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proftowanda
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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2012, 2:22:37 PM »

So, what are you supposed to do when you hit a garbage can? Call the police?

Apparently, yes.  In this case, the homeowner called police, and the homeowner had the license plate number or something, so the kid was tracked down.  And now has a record that anyone ought to know makes no sense, a hit-and-run pled down to a misdemeanor with no jail time.   This does not argue well for the IQs of the landlords.
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"Face it, girls.  I'm older, and I have more insurance."     -- Towanda!
pathogen
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« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2012, 1:11:44 PM »

Not admissions, but a former classmate of mine had something not even as serious as this on her record (caught with a beer at 17). She thought her juvie record was expunged. When she applied for a job, they did a background check. They withdrew their offer when this showed up on the check- not because they cared about the offense, but because she failed to disclose it.
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corinna2010
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« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2012, 2:01:38 PM »

One additional fact:  It is PATTERNS of criminal activity that worry directors of grad programs, not single incidents.
I summarize a couple hundred applications for the review committee each year and if an applicant mentions they have a DUI or possession conviction on their record I duly note it in the comments section of my report. I've yet to see an otherwise academically qualified applicant get turned down for my doctoral program because of a single incident. It's college, kids do dumb stuff. However, if a pattern is noticeable and it shows on their transcripts as poor grades or multiple leave of absences to get treatment or be incarcerated, that's a different story.
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2012, 2:37:06 PM »

One of the main reasons people who committed loads of criminal acts, however menial, back in the 80s or earlier is that nowadays there are simply more laws, of course, but more importantly there is also vastly more law enforcement, such as stupid cops arresting a kid for hit and run driving after plunking a garbage can.  I did this once.  I did a lot of things that would have been shrugged off by any cop back then but are strongly sanctioned in today's zero tolerance atmosphere, and this is true of discipline in k-12 school environments as well.
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dwiggin3
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« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2012, 1:09:32 PM »

anisogamy -

I deal with this issue every admissions cycle (graduate programs in psychology) and here is what I advise, in conjunction with my institutions policies:

1. Be honest on the application. While the student need not go into great detail on the application, he/she should ensure that what they convey on the application matches any criminal record that may be pulled.  Having also worked in law enforcement, this applicant should be aware of exactly what her record states and if need be, run a background check on herself so she is informed.  I would also suggest that they included an additional statement about the incident with their application.

2. Most institutions have a small group of senior admissions administrators who look over applicants with criminal histories or conduct histories.  Depending on the issue, the University Police and/or Counseling Center may be brought in to consult.  While not at my institution, I am aware of another that asks key members of the faculty who have specializations in legal issues, crime etc. to consult.

At my institution, we have a Felony Admissions Committee. Recently, we had an applicant to the PhD-Clinical program who had a criminal history that involved substance abuse and distribution.  There were existing mental health issues that compounded things.  Our Director of Clinical Training was asked to determine if the individual was a competitive applicant and what issues, if any, they might have obtaining and internship and later a license. Our decision to recommend that the file go through a full review was made easier by the fact that the applicant had already earned a masters level degree, finished an internship and obtained a license in another state after their arrest and probation. 

3. I recommend that the applicant write a letter to the Admissions committee explaining what happened, what mitigating circumstances existed and how the applicant had used the situation to better themselves. Personally, I like to see the individual take responsibility for their actions, accept that it is part of who they are (not in a sense that it defines them but that their past actions may have consequences far beyond what they initially thought). I also like to see the applicant express that they are committed to bettering who they are and helping others as a result of their experience.

Having said that, far to often in cases where the applicant has a personal connection with the field they are pursuing academically, they can be too close and cross the lines professionally.  I see this frequently with applicants who share far to much about their own struggles with mental illness/substance abuse/sexual assault/domestic violence. In many ways, it is clear that pursing the degree is an extension of their own personal therapy. There is a line between having empathy and being too involved personally.

4. Finally, the applicant needs to develop thick skin.  Knowing and accepting that a long-term consequence of their incident may be that they will be excluded from jobs, degree programs ect. because of their actions is something they need to get use to.  I don't mean to sound mean or cruel but it is the truth.

Best Wishes
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