Applying with a Criminal Record

Hello OPM!

I am a long time forum lurker and listener to Dr. Gray’s podcasts. I’ll apologize now for the long post!

I am 26 years old and recently graduated with a BS is Psychology with a 3.57 cumulative GPA and 3.54 BCPM GPA. I am taking me the MCAT in April and am currently hitting 70-80% on my practice sections. I’ve volunteered at a local emergency department and physical therapy department for almost 300 hours. I have 2 years undergrad research experience in a TBI research lab with one 3rd author publication and 4 posters (one as first author). I was an intern at the campus clinic where I had 100 patient contact hours. I was also the president of an honor society at my college (Psi Chi) and a member of another (Alpha Epsilon Delta). I was also a teaching assistant for the department of biology. I am now in a two-year postbac research program at the NIH and am working with a group doing clinical research. Also, I have some great letter of recommendation writers from many of these positions I’ve mentioned.

Ok wow that was a lot to type on my phone but here is where my dilemma begins. When I was 18 I dropped out of high school with three courses to go. I went on to leave home and do a lot of dumb things. This hiatus lasted 2 years and I ended up with two misdemeanors. The first was paraphernalia and is now expunged. The second is criminal mischief and is not expunged. I served two years probation for the second offense. The second offense is the only one that shows on background checks. The offense occurred in January of 2010.

It is now six years later. As mentioned above I returned to school and, while I had a rocky first few semesters, I ended up doing well. I would like to apply to medical school to serve children and families in rural areas, but I fear that my criminal charges put me at an incredible disadvantage. There are so many brilliant and talented applicants that medical schools can choose from. I hope they can see past my records and see that I am not the same person I was six years ago. I was very happy when the NIH accepted me for an IRTA position despite my record and hope that medical schools will show the same clemency. I plan to list both records just to be safe and am more than willing to explain where my mind was then and now to the admission committees.

Does anyone have any experience with applying with a criminal record? Are there any schools that will auto-reject me?

TL;DR - Got two criminal records (one expunged) and am now applying to medical school. Seeking advice!

No personal experience with it, but here goes nothing…

The concern with a criminal record is kind of two-fold: does the person present excess liability to the school/hospital system during the educational years and can the person successfully be licensed to practice medicine.

I think you’re doing the right thing in owning up to your history. The biggest thing you need to be able to do is show what you learned from the experience, how you’ve changed/why it won’t happen again, and NOT make any excuses for doing whatever it is you did. This goes for both the school applications and the licensing board for the future. From an article I read about criminal backgrounds and licensing, each state has different rules. In general, they consider the individuals situation (ie just being a stupid teenager), severity/nature of the crime, and actually whether or not what pops up on the background was annotated on the application.

I’d say that criminal mischief won’t keep you out of med school. It’s a seemingly minor offense, it was 6 years ago, and you don’t have any other recency of “lapses in judgment” that you’re confessing to here. That’s a pretty good story of turning your life around and succeeding academically to the benefit of society. You might want to do some school specific research to see if any school actually has some sort of zero tolerance policy, but I don’t recall seeing any as I was applying (though it wasn’t something I specifically looked for). Bottom line: You won’t know unless you apply…or at least talk directly to admissions offices.

Thank you for your response, Kennymac.

The concerns you stated are exactly what I would want an admissions committee member or licensing board member to keep in mind when evaluating any applicant, criminal record or not. I also understand that the fact that I have a criminal record does necessitate extra caution from these individuals. You made some points that I have been thinking but needed some external confirmation about. For instance, being honest and upfront about these red flags is my best bet. The worst thing I could do is try to hide them. I absolutely plan to annotate the records on my applications.

Pennsylvania (the state that I was charged in) allows one to request a Governor’s Pardon. I remember hearing this process can take up to three years to complete, but it is a process I plan to begin soon in order to have additional proof that I’ve changed my ways. Perhaps with the Governor’s Pardon the criminal mischief charge will not be have as much weight when seeking residency or licensure.

My homework from this is to add a column to my tentative schools spreadsheet to rule out any schools that will flat-out reject me. Do you think calling admissions offices about this would be appropriate? I’ve heard that calling admissions offices is usually a good thing for getting person-specific information, and has the added benefit of your name out there.

Finally, I believe that I will do well if I get the chance to tell my story. I don’t want to use the personal statement to tell it though. I feel that is a place for me to reflect on my clinical experiences exposing me to medicine, and why I believe I can succeed through medical school and in the field. That really leaves the interview. I only plan to expand on my story if specifically asked about the criminal record. Otherwise, I think that I will interview in a style similar to others.