Skip to main content

Our mission is to support & advocate for people with criminal records to be able to move on positively in their lives. Find out more

Applying to university



Aim of this information

This information aims to set out the university application process and points to consider if you’re 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. Generally, 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.

As of May 2018, applicants for courses starting in 2019 onwards will no longer be required to declare whether they have any relevant unspent criminal convictions when applying for the majority of higher education courses.

Prior to May 2018, UCAS asked all applicants to respond to two questions regarding criminal convictions:

  1. The first question asked applicants to declare whether they had any unspent criminal convictions – this question has now been removed.
  2. The second question asks applicants who are applying for courses leading to certain professions, or occupations exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) to declare whether they have any criminal convictions including spent convictions that are not filtered. This is a mandatory question and remains in place for applicants applying for these courses.

What question does UCAS ask about criminal records?

If you’re 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 you’re applying to 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’re 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.

Despite applicants not having to disclose any relevant unspent convictions on the UCAS application form, we’re unsure whether individual universities (who currently have their own admission policies) will also decide not to ask about criminal records at the admission stage. Within the context of the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) and the Data Protection Act 2018, universities will need to consider what lawful basis they have for asking about criminal records, a special category of personal data.

If you are asked to 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:

  1. Based on the evidence provided, it is judged that you pose an unacceptable risk to the university
  2. 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 is a relevant conviction?

If a university ask you to disclose a relevant unspent criminal conviction, this would usually 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 disclose 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:

If the university has an official appeals process it may be the case that your appeal has to be submitted within a certain time period and usually in writing. If you wish to provide further evidence which you’re unable to obtain in time, send off your letter and state that the additional evidence will follow within the next few days.

Many universities have admission teams that may be able to help you with the appeals process. They might help you find the relevant guidelines and regulations which could improve your chances of a successful appeal.

Make sure you give your letter a clear structure, presenting the facts without waffling. Write in a formal and business-like manner and avoid being adversarial, hostile or overly emotional.

Remember that your letter needs to persuade the panel that your case satisfies their decision making criteria. Your letter is going to be far more persuasive if it only contains strong points, so try not to dilute your good arguments by including weak ones.

Put yourself in the position of the university and make sure that where you can, you provide evidence to back up your argument.

The outcome of an appeal can be unpredictable but, a well-drafted and persuasive appeal can improve your chances.

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 individual’s 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.

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 carries out basic, 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 UK 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.
  • Institute for People with Criminal Records – American website – 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.

More information

  1. Practical self-help information – More information on universities and colleges and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum.
  3. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on promoting the fair admission policies by universities and colleges.
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this information below.
  2. Send your feedback directly to us.
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online peer forum.



Add Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Photo of Helpline lead, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Helpline lead

Do you need help & support with an issue you’re facing?

We provide support and advice for people who need guidance with either their own, or someone else’s, criminal record.

Please use the search box to start typing your issue. If you cannot find an answer to your problem then you’ll be given options to contact us directly.

Find out more about the helpline

We want to make sure that our website is as helpful as possible.

Letting us know if you easily found what you were looking for or not enables us to continue to improve our service for you and others.

Was it easy to find what you were looking for?

Thank you for your feedback.

12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

Help support us now