Common App Removes Criminal History Question


The Common Application announced it will no longer ask students about their criminal history, a big win for “ban the box” advocates.

Common App’s announcement is a shift in policy. The question has been asked since 2006. Common App last reviewed the policy in March 2017 and decided to keep the question.

“Our focus is always on serving the needs of members, students, and counselors. We believe this change provides members with the greatest flexibility and is most responsive to the evolving landscape around this issue. As the conversation around criminal history continues, we will keep monitoring it to ensure we support the needs of our membership,” Common App President and CEO Jenny Rickard wrote in the announcement of the new policy.

The change will take place on the 2019-20 application. However, individual colleges using the Common App will still be able to ask about an applicant’s criminal history in their supplements to the application.

In 2016, the US Department of Education released Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals, a guide with recommendations for the way colleges should approach inquiring about an applicant’s involvement in the criminal justice system. The department’s goal was to ensure that these questions didn’t crush the college dreams of young people, particularly young men of color who are overly represented in the country’s prison population.

NACAC released a joint statement on the guide with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) at the time, urging enrollment professionals to study the guide’s discussion questions and to offer guidance to prospective students about how to respond to questions related to involvement in the criminal justice system.

NACAC and AACRAO hoped that the guide would “encourage thoughtful discussions about the best ways to promote equity, support safe campuses, and serve students who have been involved in the criminal justice system.”

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at

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