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Yes, a DUI may signal problems for your college career

You put in your applications, which these days often include a list of your accolades up until this point in your life, an essay and anything else that gives you an edge over the competition. You feel good about the packets you put together.

Before you send out your applications, you spend some time out with friends and have a few drinks. On your way home, you see the flashing lights of a police car in your rear view mirror. When the officer tells you that you are above the legal limit, one of your first 10 thoughts may be whether a DUI will affect your chances for college admission.

How does a DUI affect the admissions process?

The majority of DUI charges here in California end up charged as misdemeanors, and your charge likely falls into this category in the absence of certain aggravating factors. You may believe, as many people do, that a misdemeanor is no big deal. You may be tempted to just plead guilty, pay your fine and move on with your life.

That could be a mistake, however. First, you will likely be required to disclose your DUI conviction (which is what a guilty plea really is) on your applications. You may also have to disclose the arrest. If the admissions board is attempting to decide between you and another applicant, your DUI could be the tipping point in the other person's favor.

You may be tempted to keep the information to yourself, but that will more than likely backfire on you. Lying on your application often results in an automatic denial of admission, but your DUI may not be. You may be given the opportunity to expound on the issue and still gain admission if you tell the truth.

Will a DUI ruin your chances for financial aid?

Not necessarily. The fact is that a misdemeanor DUI looks better than a felony one. People with felonies lose their eligibility for federal student loans, but that doesn't necessarily hold true for misdemeanors. If it does present an issue for you, you could look for alternative sources of college funding, such as private student loans or funding from the school directly.

There may be another way

The best way to keep a DUI from affecting your college career is not to drink and drive. However, everyone makes mistakes, and you should not necessarily have to forfeit your dreams of a higher education because of one. Having a full understanding of your rights and options under the legal system may help keep your record clean. Just because an officer said you were intoxicated does not mean you must accept defeat and plead guilty.

You may have other options. You should be sure to explore all of them before taking any further action.

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