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Image of a college degree scroll, a person wearing a graduation cap and gowned with college books. The caption reads " Best College Degrees for Felons."

It’s no secret, a college degree has a major impact on a person’s income, and over the years, the difference can add up to a substantial amount. So even though college can be expensive, it has always been traditionally viewed as a justifiable expense. You spend thousands upfront in order to earn many more thousands over the course of your career. That’s the nature of the academic beast. But college isn’t just expensive; it’s also very time-consuming. In this article we will take a look at some of the best college degrees for felons.

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Best College Degrees for Felons

Many people want to just get straight to work versus spending 4 to 5 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, if a student is only going to school part-time due to work commitments, it can take twice as long to graduate. Who wants to spend 8 to 10 years working on an undergrad degree? (Well, I did…)

But felons need to remember, a degree can transform one’s life. It not only leads to better jobs, but obviously a well-rounded education changes a person’s entire world perspective. And most students make friends and establish lasting academic and professional networks which they’ll be a part of for years…maybe even their entire lives! So what are the best college degrees for felons to consider, then?

Naturally this depends entirely on the desires and goals of the felon student. A few quick questions to ask yourself before we look at the suitable college degrees for felons are as follows.

What careers interest you that are felon friendly?

Do you want to be an engineer, a pilot, a doctor, nurse or lawyer? Whatever your specific interest, understand that for some of these areas, there are specialized schools you’ll want to apply for. Not every university offers every program of study, so try to pin down your desires major before applying for school admission!

It is also very important to keep in mind that having a felony on your record may make certain career paths almost impossible. Stay away from college degrees that will lead you to careers that your felony will greatly affect.

Are you willing to commit additional time for advanced degrees?

Each field requires varying levels of education. You can be an engineer with a 4 to 5 year degree. But to be a doctor, you’ll need much more! So take this into consideration as you plan your degree path. Read up on exactly what you need and what the average length of time is to get there. Often times, the best degree for felons are broad range degrees, like a BS in Business Management.

What careers are you ineligible for as a convicted felon?

You may be ineligible for a degree in law or medicine, depending on your conviction. Things like working in hospitals, pharmacies, education sector which involves children, financial sectors involving funds or stocks…all these may be off-limits.

Can you get around any obstacles which bar you from a career?

In some cases, yes a felon barred from a field may be able to find a workaround solution, so never automatically accept a “no” until you’ve done your homework!
But use some common sense, too; if you are a registered sex offender, for instance, your odds of working in a school are virtually zero. If you were trafficking narcotics, it’s pretty unlikely you can become a pharmacist.

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Can you qualify for a federal grant or scholarship?

Most federal aid can be applied for on your own or with the help of a university staff member. We also have a section about loans and grants for felons and Pell grants for felons.

But you need to read closely about the eligibility for such aid, here on the Federal Student Aid website. This site explains who can apply under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Felons convicted of drug or sexual-related offenses may be ineligible for certain types of aid.

Can you attend college-credit courses during your incarceration (if applicable)?

If you are in prison, but want to get started on your degree, you may have some options. If there are no courses offered within the prison itself, and (assumably) you don’t have access to the Internet, you may be able to enroll in correspondence courses which use tradition pen-and-paper assignments. There is also a federal pilot program that you may find interesting, Pell Grants for Prisoners.

This is not that uncommon and in fact I’ve done a few of these myself, while working on a history degree long ago. Just make sure to check if the school is regionally accredited or not (if not, course credits probably won’t transfer to other universities later. This is a problem with some smaller schools, especially online ones).

Okay, let’s dive into a few options for college degrees for felons now!

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List of the Best College Degrees for Felons

The future is now! Within the last couple of decades, the world has been revolutionized by technology, with the mobile tech sector growing at outlandish speeds (oh, why did I sell my stock in Apple back in 2001?).

Clearly there’s not going to be any shortage of careers in this area. Ever. Just the opposite; more and more careers will continue to become automated, and eventually folks with no computer skills are going to be relegated to either very low paying jobs or they’ll need to be highly specialized in fields which computers cannot (yet) take over.

Since this a rapidly growing career field felons will find many small start up companies that often do not run background checks. Another plus is that a lot of tech jobs are in California and California limits how far back an employer can run a background check.

The usual rule in California is that the employer goes back only seven years. But there are exceptions for many jobs that involve working with vulnerable populations like children, elderly people, or individuals with disabilities.

Source: Avvo

One other point worth noting about IT/computer/Technology careers and degrees. There are thousands of jobs available online through Upwork and Fiverr.

Here are some degree paths which fall under the Computer/IT umbrella:

Mobile Computing

By now, 90% of the world’s population is walking around with a smart device of some kind. Tablets and laptops and smartphones are standard gear for the modern human, and it only makes sense that somebody needs to understand how all this mobile tech actually works! Many people are seeking degrees in mobile computing. Why not you?

Information Security

Anytime a new process is introduced to the world, someone has to go and screw it up. Since the dawn of computing technology, there’s been attempts to steal or compromise data contained within the digital files of these devices and their related software.

Hackers are now so commonplace that even children can understand the vulnerabilities of their online gaming accounts. Companies face corporate espionage while governments do cyber battle with one another on a never-ending basis.

Thus there’s no end to the job opportunities for someone with an interest in information security and information assurance degree. Note, some of these jobs will require a background check, so be prepared! Felons with theft and forgery related crimes may want to steer clear of this college degree.

Database Management

Did you know over 1.8 zettabytes of data were created in 2017? Do you even know what a zettabyte is? Well, if you do, read on!

With so much data being ceaselessly generated, database managers are in hot demand. Persons who a degree in this field can expect to see a massive spike in job openings, and since database management is not, well…a field that most students jump at, then that means there may not be enough qualified personnel to fill all those empty jobs.

Which means companies will have to offer a higher salary to incentivize you to work for them! You can read more about getting a bachelors degree in database management here.

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Game Design

Those video games aren’t making themselves!

It takes dedicated, passionate players to create our favorite addictive hobby! If you’ve got that blend of creativity and a knack for (or willingness to learn) how to design a game through coding and computer programming languages, then you’ll be a commodity! You can look at some game design degree programs here.

This is another one of those fields which has exploded in the last few years. Sure, the old Atari 2600 consoles were invented decades ago, but few adults were playing E.T. back in 1982. But nowadays, who doesn’t play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto (GTA)? Exactly. Plus how many felonies are committed in GTA? You will have first hand info lol… So with the onset of games for all ages, and especially now with affordable virtual reality sets being introduced onto the market, game designers are only going to get more and more sought after.

Maybe that’s enough IT-related degrees to get you thinking. If it’s not, you can always visit Computing Careers to see what else is out there, and believe me, the choices are nearly limitless.

I didn’t even mention Robotics, but then again maybe that’s an area unto itself…?

Robotics

Actually, it is an area unto itself.

Because now we’re moving outside of computers and software and into the real world. Robots obviously run on software, but they are physical devices, machines controlled (in part) by code but also often operated by a live person sometimes.

So when we’re talking about robotics, we’re not just talking computer science, but also electronics, nanotech, and engineering degrees…even aerial drones can fall under this category. This is the kind of stuff a lot of felons (and just guys in general) really find interesting! Check out robotics degree information here.

Okay, plug in, robo-felons, and let’s consider these choices:

Industrial Robotics

Remember we talked about human jobs being replaced by software? Well, human jobs are also being replaced by industrial robots. Car manufacturers have long utilized robots in their factories. Robots don’t get tired, they can sit there and do the same task over and over and over, without complaint (or overtime pay!).

They’re also able to do tasks which are unsafe for us puny flesh and blood types. For this reason, the field of industrial robotics will continue to expand into new territory. In fact, predictions indicate that the number of operational industrial robots will grow from the current of 2,000,000 to nearly 3,000,000 in a couple more years. That’s a ton of ‘bots! But who is going to work on them?

Sensor Technology

In a world run by unfeeling robots seems startling, just think about how all these devices “sense” their environment! Technology can’t see, smell, hear, touch, or taste…can it? Well, it can mimic those human senses via sensor technology!

This field of study is so curious and yet the products of these innovations are all around us each day. Ever use a computer mouse? Ever have a store door open as you approached? Even backed up in a newer model car and has an alarm tell you you were too close to something, or watched one of those automatic room vacuums zoom around the floor?

These are just rudimentary examples of sensor tech, and as it becomes more and more integrated with artificial intelligence coupled with mobile robots…well, surely The Terminator isn’t too far off! So we encourage felons interested in the future to consider degrees in this fascinating area of study!

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Trade Schools and Advanced Degrees

Trade schools offer programs for the several vocational areas, but did you know you can progress beyond those certifications to obtain a full degree? Many of these are the best college degrees for felons.

Welding and Welding Engineer

Many felons enjoy welding as a trade, yet some desire to move beyond making welds on specific parts, and are actually interested in the science of welding. If you have a desire to delve into the complex physics and chemistry behind the art of welding, you might be ready to move beyond the manual aspects of welding and begin your studies to become a welding engineer.

But just remember, the best welding engineer will want to also have the practical experience gained from hands-on training in the field. Otherwise, you’ll be considered an unqualified bookworm with no street cred!

Construction Management

As broad a field as welding is, construction is vastly wider but one of the best college degrees for felons.. A degree in construction management will teach you about the basic principles of the field, how to conduct proper surveying, an overview of accounting, some basics on quality control, and how to read plans and drafts. There’ll also be courses for using computer technology in the process, which is obviously more and more common.

Students will learn about industrial, commercial, and residential construction types, and from there you can choose for yourself which you want to focus on once you enter the job market. No matter which you pick, you’ll be entering a lucrative trade!

Construction careers have always been a good choice for felons since a lot of smaller construction companies do not run background checks.

Carpentry

Carpentry is one of those fields that can really get you outdoors, which is appealing for anyone who has been cooped up behind bars! Not all carpenters work outside, but many do. It’s a rewarding career, allowing one to create something which will be used by others.

You don’t actually need a degree to become a carpenter, but you can get one. You’ll at least want a certification to learn blueprint reading, framing and interior finishing, cabinet making, and various methods of construction and associated materials. Carpentry is an excellent career field for felons to get a degree in.

Not everyone wants to continue their education to the level of a college degree. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, and he did okay. So a vocational certification may be all you want to get some training and get to work!

If you are good with your hands and enjoy focusing on a project which requires a lot of attention to detail, there is an endless demand for qualified carpenters! Many form their own small businesses or are even “handyman” workers who work as freelance contractors…the ultimate in flexible jobs! And when you work for yourself, hey…no background check!

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Outside the Box Degrees

I decided to throw in a few options which are a bit out of the box, but still very well-suited for ex-cons who might want to try something different…

Forestry

Since we were just speaking of getting outdoors with those carpentry jobs, if you really want to stay outdoors then a degree in forestry is right up your alley. Or maybe I should say neck of the woods? You don’t have to be a “tree hugger” to be interested in forestry conservation, environmental management, and ecology in general.

And as for jobs, once you finish this degree, a graduate may expect to become a forest manager (naturally!) or a wildland fire supervisor…or even a natural resource specialist. Or…the Lorax.

Unlike jobs where there’s a lot of human interaction (and therefore a possibility for exclusion for felons who want to enter such fields), working with the environment is generally a wide-open option for anyone who hasn’t been convicted, ohh…arson!

Nutrition

Does this one surprise you? It shouldn’t. The study of food and how it affects the body is an interesting choice for many felons who have found themselves wondering how they can keep their health optimal under the stressful conditions of incarceration.

Many felons are, in fact, nutritional experts just from spending a lot of time around weight lifters! So for those who want to hone their skills in the science of nutrition, a degree is the logical next step.

There are many nutritional career options which correspond to medical fields, and not all felons are able to work in said fields, as we mentioned before…but a qualified nutritionist isn’t confined to only the medical arena.

You may work with private clients or companies, helping them plan menus to ensure healthy outcomes. A nutritionist will work closely with individuals to explain and monitor dietary habits, provide educational services, and aid them in their understanding of how organic versus genetically modified foods work on the human body.

There’s an odd trend occurring in modern America. People are living longer, yet we’re plagued with historically high numbers of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Now more than ever, nutritionists are greatly needed and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this demand will continue to increase as the years go by.

Music

Now we’re really talking! And singing! Are you ready to break from the pack and do something truly creative…and somewhat risky? A career in music is by no means a promise for future riches. On the contrary, many musicians fall under that heinous category of “starving artists.”

But how fun it can be to starve while doing that which you love! If you’re a musician at heart and want to really learn the foundations of musical theory, go for a music degree.

It’ll prove your commitment to the art and can help with your playing, whatever instrument you’re a master of. If you aren’t a master of any, that’s alright, too. There are many secondary and tertiary fields a musical grad can enter, like sound technician, broadcasting, or even a community arts worker. The fact is, no, having a degree in music may not make you rich but it can fill an ex-con’s soul in ways other degrees cannot. And you simply can’t put a price on that.

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A Few More Points About the Best College Degrees for Felons

Remember to fully investigate any and all career field that you be wanting to get a degree in. As you already know having a felony greatly impacts what jobs you can get. Do not get a degree in a field where you work with elderly, children or vulnerable groups. The above list of the best college degree’s for felons is not meant to be taken literally, but as a guide to explore different degrees that historically are accepting of felons and people with criminal records.

Felony Expungement – In a number of states it is possible to have your felony conviction either expunged or sealed. Imagine having your record swiped clean! Learn more here.