The most successful degrees for felons offer a chance for a new career and an opportunity for a fresh start and a new lease on life. Unfortunately, having a felony charge on your record can make it hard to bounce back after the release.
Many former convicts, or ex cons, view that as the end of their ability to have a career. Some even become discouraged from attempting to get a degree. This is especially depressing as government assistance may be limited. Depending on the state where you live and the crime you went in for initially you may not qualify for federal financial aid.
Many companies and industries with high standards don’t hire felons with a prior conviction. They don’t hire people with felony convictions or criminal convictions on their record. But, there are many majors to choose from that are each well-suited for felons. Often those with felony charges feel like returning to a life of crime is the only option to support themselves. But, there are many career choices for those with a felony record who need a second chance.
Below is a list of 10 degrees you can get with a criminal record. Many require little time and money, like the two-year associated degree that offers an excellent return on investment. Careers for convicted felons can seem unachievable. So, scan this list and find something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. Then, you can work hard and be proud of the life you build with a college education.
1. Automotive Technology
Auto technology is one of the best degrees for felons. It is very achievable and supportive of someone re-entering society following a long or short sentence. You only need a high school diploma or GED to study at a community college or technical school. Furthermore, many of these programs are part of prison reentry programs.
You can work in the auto industry without a certificate of training. However, it is a benefit to attending a program that trains you on the ins and outs of the industry. One of the aspects of training that you get from a program like this is the ability to work with the public and explain to people in lay terms what might be happening to their vehicle. This field is known to offer starting salaries of nearly $50k.
- Jobs Available: Auto Body Technician or Auto Mechanic
- Education Requirement: Vocational certificate
- Average Hourly Pay: $20 to $22
2. Sustainability and Environmental Science
It is no secret that our planet is suffering. The only real upside is there are more and more infrastructure and career opportunities related to environmental sciences and conservation. As far as careers with a felony background go, there are many ways to plug into this particular industry.
You can pick a path that is more geared to forest restoration or even solar panel installation. These jobs are not going anywhere, and are welcoming to people interested in this degree path. This degree can include access to a government job or work within the private sector and install solar panels.
- Jobs Available: Wind Energy Technician, Solar Energy Technician, Geological Technician, and Hydrologic Technician
- Education Requirement: Certificate, Diploma, or Associate Degree
- Average Hourly Pay: $25 to $27
3. Robotics and Automation
Robotics and Automation is the perfect field to study in engineering. Many in this field have degrees in mechanical engineering or computer engineering. You will notice once you start researching robotics that this sector is present in all aspects of our lives. What better way to work at the cutting edge and support companies to use smart machines and robots more effectively.
These industries are practically begging people to immerse themselves in robotics design to keep their companies thriving. One of the real benefits of this degree path is it is unbelievably lucrative. Graduates can enter the workforce earning $50,000 annually out of the gate and can make up to $120,000. Yes, even with a felony charge on your record.
- Jobs Available: Mechanical Engineer, Computer Engineer
- Education Requirement: bachelor’s degree or higher
- Average Hourly Pay: $40 to $50
4. Substance Abuse Counseling
People often go into Substance Abuse Counseling from a personal and even emotional place. Many times students go into this field wanting to help others with common experience who are seeking the support they once needed. There are many ways to achieve such a degree, including plenty of online opportunities for coursework. Counseling and Social Work career pathways have many job opportunities to help people. Students study human nature, structural principles of society, social psychology, and even abnormal psychology.
Counseling programs are a great track to be on. You can get into the community and use your life experience to make a difference in people’s lives. This education track gives students a chance for hands-on learning experiences with a substance abuse counseling degree.
- Jobs Available: Counselor, Community Health Specialist, Social Worker, Social Services
- Education Requirement: bachelor’s degree level or graduate school
- Average Hourly Pay: $23 to $25
5. Computer Science or Computer Programming
Computer Science is a multifaceted track that can be a gateway to some of the most in-demand careers out there. There are many focal points you can hone in on for this educational path. They include app development, database management, algorithm analysis, web development, and even software development. Students in these programs learn programming languages and operating systems. With a certificate or associate degree, you can get an IT job and provide technical support.
Computer programmers learn to write code, while software developers tell computer programmers what to build. There are many flexible ways to engage in this academic track, with a lot of online options for coursework. It is clear that this is a field that is not going anywhere, and also it is one that can allow felons to work for themselves or find a company that is not interested in disqualifying someone with a past.
- Jobs Available: Computer Programmer, Information Technology (IT) Specialist
- Education Requirement: associate degree or higher
- Average Hourly Pay: $28 to $44
6. Graphic Design
Careers in graphic design are not going anywhere, and many companies are hiring qualified graduates who are not even conducting background checks. Design is a flexible career journey that can allow you to freelance from your home, or plug you into the payroll of an established company as a permanent employee. The options for this degree are endless. Furthermore, many graphic designers work for themselves doing freelance work and are self employed.
Design is a growing field and excellent for anyone interested in designing websites, visual marketing, game design, and working with digital multimedia platforms. There are many ways to engage with this industry, but even an associate’s degree alone can get your foot in the door. There are many graphic design degrees in this broad field at a community college, trade school, or even online.
- Jobs Available: Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Video Editor
- Education Requirement: Certificate or Associate Degree
- Average Hourly Pay: $24 to $26
The field of Carpentry not only allows you to use your hands, and engage your top-notch problem-solving skills, but it is also quite a lucrative career path. Many trade schools welcome people who were previously incarcerated. Some carpenters are more than willing to bring on apprentices who have a record. There are even online learning opportunities for students who pick this hands-on trade.
There are many places a graduate can put to use a degree like this. You can work a residential construction job or find commercial construction union work. Or even, place a handyman ad highlighting your skills on your neighborhood listserve.
With experience, you can even move on to management positions. This is also one of the best careers for female felons, as there are many free training opportunities for women interested in learning this historically male-dominated trade.
- Jobs Available: Carpenter, General Laborer, Construction Management
- Education Requirement: Vocational Certificate
- Average Hourly Pay: $23 to $24
I would venture to say that marketing is one of the highest-paying jobs that is often welcoming to people with a criminal background. Getting onto a marketing team, students usually need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. You can plug into many different organizations and companies by creating materials that speak to their target audience and sell their services or goods.
Students earning a marketing degree learn the psychology of communicating with consumers, and effective ways to conduct market research. There are also ways to work and have a freelance career with this degree. People also plug their skills into companies and organizations that are already established.
- Jobs Available: Marketing Analyst
- Education Requirement: bachelor’s degree or higher
- Average Hourly Pay: $32 to $34
One of the best degrees for felons is a business degree. There are so many places you can go with a business or entrepreneurship degree. You can become an entrepreneur and start your exciting endeavor as your own boss. Or, you can contribute to an already established company with your in-demand skills post-degree. With an associate degree in business, you can take your education as far as you want for more in-depth skills and job potential.
This multifaceted path can pour you into the world of sales, human resources, marketing, communications, and even public relations. There is something here for everyone. Yes, even someone with a criminal record.
- Jobs Available: Business Owner, Sales Representative
- Education Requirement: associate or bachelor’s degree
- Average Hourly Pay: $31 to $41
10. Medical Assistant or Technician
You may ask, are there good degrees for felons for medical careers? You can easily accomplish an associate’s degree or even a bachelor’s to be a medical technician, no matter what your criminal background says. There are many ways to get on this career track, including a certificate in phlebotomy.
The beauty of this path is you can take expedited coursework and get in the field pretty quickly, or take your time if you want a more thorough approach. Many skills you will gain include medical terminology and communication skills for healthcare, which are transferrable to almost all careers in the healthcare industry.
- Jobs Available: Medical Assistant
- Education Requirement: certificate or higher
- Average Hourly Pay: $17 to $19
What are the Best Degrees for Felons?
It can be discouraging to re-enter society. Maybe you are even beginning your journey in the workforce for the first time with a background employers may not understand. There are many ways to start again in today’s job market. Online college degrees offer a flexible alternative to on-campus programs.
So many industries have empathy for people trying their best to get their lives right and make better choices, and some don’t even check. Additionally, with the right skills, starting your own business and self-employment is a great option.
Other Degrees for Felons
Other felon job opportunities are available with a culinary arts or construction management program.
A paralegal degree is a legal research introduction. Paralegal programs prepare individuals to get a job in the legal system. They work for attorneys or corporations doing research. Or, psychology degrees prepare you to work in human services.
Culinary schools and culinary programs train ex-offenders for employment in the culinary industry. They can learn food preparation skills to be cooks and chefs. Construction management is another popular choice.
What Careers Should Felons Avoid?
You may be able to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a specific area. However, that does not mean you will be able to get a job using your degree. Any role in which you are required to have a clean criminal history is likely a bad choice. This is especially true if your criminal history consists of serious violence or sexual offenses.
Depending on your conviction, it may be difficult to work in roles where you are responsible for money or children. For example, an undergraduate degree in either education, finance, or banking will require you to have a clean background check to work in a particular position.
Prospective students should research career options. Then, find out if prior convictions will affect your ability to find good employment. Focus on careers in high demand. An online school search will provide you with a list of school rankings.
Why Do Colleges Care if You Have a Felony?
When students go to college and live on campus, the school is responsible for their safety. Schools don’t want to admit anyone who may be a threat to the other students or faculty. This is why most schools look at convictions on a case-by-case basis and take all the factors into consideration.
Colleges want to know you understand what you did wrong, are integrated back into society, and that you have changed. Some other factors that may influence their decision are the time since your release and the program you want to attend.
What are the Worst Felony Convictions for College Admissions?
If you committed a violent crime or sexual offense, then you may not be able to get into a traditional program on campus. This would be for the safety of the other students. However, there are now many great online degree programs you can attend. And, online degrees are well accepted if they come from an accredited school.
If you are honest and can explain your journey to the admissions office, then you have a good chance. However, you should expect that some schools are going to turn you down. Don’t be discouraged and don’t take it personally. Instead, focus on the schools that believe people deserve second chances. Then prove you deserve it.
What Colleges Accept Felons?
For most people in the US, higher education is the path to a better life. Most colleges accept felons but they also usually want an explanation of your conviction. And very few schools have an automatic ban for students with a felony. So, it is important that you never lie about your conviction. You also need to practice explaining what happened and what you learn from it.
Additionally, two year community colleges have many degree programs that offer trade and vocational certificates. These are affordable and popular for ex-felons. These schools have campus programs, online programs, and also online classes.
What Companies Hire Felons?
There are probably more companies than you think that hire individuals with criminal records. There are some that advertise it like Dave’s Killer Bread in Oregon. But there are many other potential employers that don’t advertise. So, you won’t know the companies hiring people with felony records until you apply.
Additionally, there are a lot of community-based programs and organizations that offer employment and job skills. For example, the King’s Kitchen is a nonprofit restaurant and bakery in Charlotte North Carolina.
King’s hires formerly incarcerated persons and others that most businesses deem unemployable. They currently pay line chefs $15 to $20 an hour. But more importantly, they train individuals with both work skills and life skills so they can lead successful lives. This is an excellent organization and also a great place to eat!
Can Felons Get Governement Jobs?
Government jobs tend to be good jobs for felons if you can get one. Furthermore, a treason conviction seems to be the only automatic refusal from the federal government. After treason, each individual felony conviction is assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, there are employment opportunities at government agencies for lots of entry-level jobs.
Can Felons Still Be Successful?
Don’t lose sight of all of the ways you can not only contribute to society but also earn a salary that you’re proud of, and of course, promises self-sufficiency. College acceptance with a felony is not as daunting as you may think.
And, earning a college degree is not as hard as it once was. Look into different ways to accomplish your academic goals, including online learning and community college.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is where you can find financial aid to help you pay for college. They are government grants, loans, and work-study programs.
US Dept of Labor
The United States Department of Labor sponsors the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This is an incentive program that targets individuals who face obstacles to employment.
Federal Bonding Program is another form of job assistance. This program offers bonds for free to you and your employer. It is for all wage jobs and you can be bonded the same day you get a job offer. The bond is basically an insurance policy for your employer. It protects them from the perceived risk that you may steal and makes them feel more comfortable about hiring you.
Career One Stop
Career One Stop provides job search advice for ex-offenders looking for work.
Project HOPE assists ex-offenders with re-entry into society. Participants get help with housing, education, and employment in North Carolina.
Help for Felons
Help For Felons is a state-by-state listing that has education and job resource guides for ex-offenders in each state.
Your Future and Success
Now is as good a time as any to take a step in the right direction. Vocational schools and community colleges offer technical training that can lead to a rewarding career. You can also earn an online liberal arts degree to gain employment. Invest in a new beginning; invest in yourself. With post-secondary education, a fulfilling career and meaningful employment await!