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“Acceptance was the answer to my problems” – Getting into university with an unspent conviction

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Despite education being widely recognised as a key factor in successful rehabilitation, having to disclose a conviction will often mean that people with convictions are discouraged from applying. But, refusal from one university didn’t stop Henry from following his dream to study for a Masters.

I’m so pleased to be writing this and able to say that I’ve just been accepted at university to study for a Masters despite having an unspent conviction.

Although I was applying to study on a distance learning basis, the university asked that I disclose any convictions for any relevant offences. These were defined as:

Those convictions for offences against the person, whether of a violent or sexual nature, and convictions involving unlawfully supplying controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking.”

Unfortunately, my offence was considered relevant. I’d previously been turned down for a similar course at a bricks-and-mortar university which would have involved spending one day each week on the university campus. The rejection letter I’d received had pulled no punches either which gave me a really bad feeling when applying the second time.

I felt that no matter what I said, my application would be refused.

I spent a long time putting a disclosure letter and personal statement together. I stuck to the facts about my offence and conviction but made sure that I showcased everything I’d done since then. I provided evidence of all the courses that I’d completed and mentioned that I’d participated in various therapeutic communities. This appeared to be the key to my success.

I had been asked whether the university could contact my supervising officer. My probation officer’s heavy case-load meant that responding to queries from the university wasn’t high on her list of priorities and I had to work hard to get her to deal with it sooner rather than later. However, the report she wrote was extremely favourable and, taken into consideration with the other information supplied, I was offered a place on the course.

The nature of my conviction is very stigmatising and the prospect of having to reveal it was daunting. For the most part, the people I dealt with were respectful and did all they could do to support my application and I’m really grateful to them for that. The Masters is a great opportunity for me to move on with my life and I can’t wait to really get stuck into my studies.

By Henry  (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

Although Henry was asked to disclose his conviction, remember that universities should only be asking for this information if the course you are studying will lead to an occupation which is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, for example nursing or teaching etc.

Although it can be difficult to challenge questions like this, it’s important that you only disclose what you legally need to.

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