Criminal Convictions and a New Collegiate Application Review Procees

Youthful indiscretions that result in criminal convictions substantially impair access to a university/college and post-high school profession licensing educations. New York University (NYU) has changed its evaluation process of undergraduate applicants with criminal convictions.  Altering the manner within which NYU’s admission program will evaluate Common Application applicants with criminal convictions will significantly change both the applicant pool and opportunity for many students to now be accepted into NYU.

The Common Application web site states it is a not-for-profit membership organization that, since its founding over 35 years ago, has been committed to providing reliable services that promote equity, access, and integrity in the college application process. It serve students, member institutions, and secondary schools by providing applications that students and school officials may submit to any of our over 500 members. Membership is open to colleges and universities that promote access by evaluating students using a holistic selection process.

The Common Application includes a criminal conviction history question. Many otherwise highly qualified applicants choose not to apply to colleges utilizing the Common Application because of this application question.  Some member colleges utilize the criminal conviction history as a first level screening tool to effectively not consider any potential students with a criminal history. For schools that allow applicants with a criminal history past the initial computer scoring level, unbiased admissions professions claimed a criminal history does not bias their evaluation when scored against other non-convicted applicants. However, this is clearly not true based simply upon human nature.

NYU has chosen to continue to require the interrogatory on its applications. What has changed is when admissions professionals will learn of an applicant’s criminal history and the manner in which those applications will be reviewed. Initial admission screening professionals will be precluded from seeing an affirmative criminal history answer. This places the applicant on the same footing as all other NYU applicants. The change in the first step of this process is significant.

If an applicant makes it to the second level in the application process then the criminal history acknowledgement becomes known to the admission committee via a separate more discreet private screening committee.  The Committee will weigh the factors of a criminal conviction in a much better context to that applicant’s otherwise clearly demonstrated qualifications. Here, the NYU web site states “a special committee, made up of a team of admissions professionals who have been trained to perform an assessment based on a multi-factor analysis to determine whether a past criminal offense justifies denial of admission.”

Whether NYU has changed this process for diversity reasons, because African Americans are much more likely to suffer from a professionally disabling criminal conviction then a similar situated white applicant, or to give these applicants a better chance of admission, it doesn’t matter. Eliminating the stigma of a criminal conviction in both the initial application process and in the choice of schools of which prospective students apply in the formal applications consideration process, NYU is breaking new ground.

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