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Frequently Asked Questions - Institute for Justice and Opportunity

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is College Initiative?
    College Initiative is a supportive community of students, alumni, and staff who are dedicated to creating pathways from criminal legal system involvement to college and careers.
  • How can I meet with an academic counselor?
    Academic counselors meet with students at the central College Initiative office on John Jay College’s campus. Please click here if you are a new student interested in signing up to meet with an counselor. If an incarcerated friend or loved one is interested in obtaining more information about pursuing higher education through College Initiative, have them send us a letter at:

The John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity
College Initiative
524 West 59th Street, Suite 609BMW
New York, NY 10019

  • If I have never been to prison, can I still receive assistance from College Initiative?
    We work with anyone who has had criminal legal system involvement, including incarceration, probation, parole, involvement in ATI programs, and arrest without conviction.
  • Does College Initiative pay for tuition and other expenses?
    We provide financial support for some of the college application costs as well as for fees associated with gathering college, high school, and equivalency transcripts. However, we do not pay for tuition. If a prospective student was incarcerated the previous year, does not have any outstanding student loans, and enrolls as a part-time or full-time student, they can apply for federal and New York State financial assistance. The costs of tuition and books are usually covered by financial aid. We can also help you learn about scholarships and stipends for which you might be eligible.
  • Does College Initiative pay for correspondence courses?
    We do not pay for correspondence courses.
  • Can I apply to colleges outside of the CUNY system and still receive assistance from College Initiative?
    Yes, but we strongly encourage students to enroll in the CUNY system, which offers an affordable, high-quality college education. However, we understand that some students may want to attend a private college, or a college within the SUNY system. We will be happy to assist you wherever you apply, as long as the program is accredited.
  • If I have a student loan in default, can I still receive financial aid?
    No. However, you will regain eligibility for Pell and TAP grants when your student loan is out of default. We will help you work with the lender to set up an affordable payment plan. In most cases, after making six consecutive on-time payments, your loan comes out of default and you are then eligible to receive financial aid.
  • Can I receive financial assistance if I have a criminal record?
    Financial aid restrictions only apply to people who were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drug offense while receiving financial aid. If the law applies to you, there are ways to lift the restrictions. To learn more, contact your Academic Counselor or read more on the Federal Student Aid website.
  • What careers do I need to avoid because of my criminal record?
    Convictions involving drugs or violence can make it difficult to get licensed as a teacher in New York City (primary and secondary education) or as a health care provider (nurse, radiologist, paramedic, veterinary technician). To learn more about these restrictions, contact the Legal Action Center.
  • Can I submit my college application while incarcerated?
    We recommend that you wait until you are home before applying. It is important to have basic needs like housing and employment established before enrolling in college. Additionally, if you have been out of school for a long period of time, we can connect you with college bridge programming to prepare for the CUNY placement tests. We advise prospective students to submit their college applications three to six months before the start of the next semester.
  • I am not a U.S. citizen. Do I qualify for financial assistance?
    If you have an F1 or F2 visa, you are not eligible for financial aid, however, if you are a U.S. permanent resident with an I-551 or I-551c form, or if you fit under one of the following immigration categories with an I-94 form, then you are eligible for financial assistance. The relevant immigration classifications include the following:
    • Indefinite parole
    • Non-citizens refugee
    • Asylum granted
    • Humanitarian parole