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10 Best Degrees for Felons What to study for a fulfilling career beyond bars

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Founder/Senior Editor
B.A., M.Div.
Jeremy Alder has spent over a decade researching and writing about higher education to provided students with the information they need to achieve their goals. He has significant personal experience with career transitions, working as a freelance writer and editor, non-profit director, community organizer, preacher, teacher, retail manager, and carpenter prior to founding College Consensus. Homeschooled from the second grade, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., Philosophy) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, five kids, and a Labradoodle named Hank.
Managing Editor
Carrie Sealey-Morris has covered bootcamps, careers, and higher education for College Consensus since 2017. Carrie is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where she earned a B.A. in American Studies. 

Key Takeaways for Students:

  • There are many career options available for felons with a degree
  • Online study is a great way for formerly incarcerated people to get a degree
  • Computer science, entrepreneurship, and trades are perfect choices for felons

You were convicted of a felony, you served your time and now you’re ready to get back into life on the outside. Getting a job will be number one in helping you to maintain yourself and possibly your family. Research shows that having stable employment and a degree can reduce the rates of re-offending and re-incarceration for ex-cons.

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RankDegreeAverage Salary
1.Computer Science$145,080
2.Business Management$116,880
3. Agriculture$83,770
4. Marketing$74,680
5. Robotics$56,740
6. Vocational Studies$55,680
7. Liberal Arts$54,000
8. Substance Abuse Counseling$51,980
9. Sustainability$50,560
10. Mechanic$47,770
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (April 2024)

What Can Felons Go to School For?

Unfortunately, once you’ve been labeled as a felon, good employment may be difficult to come by. In fact, data shows that the unemployment rate for felons is five times higher than for the general population. Whether you have limited skills or work experience or you’re no longer able to work in your field due to your conviction, your best option may be to get a college degree so that you can gain meaningful employment in a felon-friendly sector.

Even if you can’t attend school in person full-time because of other responsibilities, you may be able to take courses part-time or online. Additionally, check out online courses that are available for free that relate to your field of interest or that can make you more marketable when it comes time to apply to a job. Your local library can be a good source of information in this area, and they may even offer some courses that you can access from home.

What is the Best Degree to Get as a Felon?

So what degree can a felon get that will change their life for the better? There are some things worth considering:

cc research felons

If you concentrate on degrees and careers that will have high demand in the future, and give you skills you can use in different jobs, you can’t go wrong! Here are some of the best college degrees for felons.

1. Computer Science

Computer science is an ever-growing field with no shortage of jobs available as technology takes over many aspects designed to make life simpler. Depending on the specialty that you decide to choose in this field, you’ll need to be good at math. However, many colleges and universities offer basic level courses to help you get caught up.

While in your studies, you’ll learn about the basics of computer systems, various programming languages and operating systems, databases and security. Other coursework may include web programming, software engineering, data mining, cloud computing and data management. You can choose a generalized degree or specialize in one of several sectors. While the focus of your coursework will be on computer science, you’ll likely be expected to take additional courses that include language arts, science, math and some type of humanities to round out your education.

Some jobs that you could get after graduation include software developer, IT specialist, computer security analyst or web developer. Additionally, a computer science degree could land you work in programming, graphic design, video creation and editing, data entry or game and app development. Some of these positions can be filled remotely, meaning that you could possibly work from home with a computer and internet access.

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2. Business Management

If you’d rather not worry about getting hired somewhere because of your felony conviction, you may decide to work for yourself. Being self-employed has its pros and cons, but you may want to think about getting at least a basic education in business management or a related field. In addition, a business degree can help you in a traditional role with an employer.

For this degree, you’ll be required to take the basic general education requirements including math, language, science and humanities in addition to your core area of concentration. You’ll learn about how to manage the accounting and finance for your business, marketing, communication, problem solving and how to keep records.

While a business management degree can benefit you across a wide range of fields, it can be a great way to get into sales of any type. Additionally, this degree can help you in managing your own business, self-employment or side hustles such as entrepreneur, freelance photographer or even dog walker.

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3. Agriculture

A necessary field, fewer people are starting out in the rewarding career of agriculture. Without people working in agriculture, the world would soon go hungry. You may decide to focus on the business aspect of agriculture, or you may decide to go with soil, plants and animals as your prime area of learning.

Your studies for a degree in agriculture will be heavy in science, including biology and chemistry. You’ll also learn about nutrition for plants, animals and the soil, geology, topography, horticulture, pesticides, food systems and the collection of data.

You could start your own farm or ranch whether it be for food or animal products, work for or run your own agricultural business or research and teach others on important sustainable or self-sufficient farming practices. In addition, your options include soil management, urban agriculture and how to make the most out of natural resources. You also may be eligible for employment at extensions and co-ops.

4. Marketing

If you’re like most people, when you hear the term marketing, you probably think of advertising. While marketing does involve the use of ads, there’s so much more involved than just tossing out some information in hard copy, over the radio or TV or digitally. Marketing tells a story about products, services or business, but you have to know where to start. That’s where a degree comes in handy.

When you choose to get a marketing degree, you’ll learn how to effectively learn from customers and apply that information. Research, analyses, networking and creating and developing products are all covered. The major you choose may be based more in science, humanities or business, so choose the segment that best suits your interests.

With a marketing degree, you could gain employment in digital marketing, research analysis, public relations, product development and even sales or fundraising. You may begin at an entry level position, but with continued learning and a proven track record, you could work your way up to manager, specialist or coordinator.

5. Robotics

If working directly with people doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps working with robots is more your speed. A subfield of engineering, robotics is gaining popularity as a way to reduce human error and injury associated with a lot of professions. You’ll need to be good at math and science, including physics to progress throughout the coursework for this degree as you learn how to create, design, test, repair, maintain and test various robotics hardware and software.

Some of the coursework you may encounter in your studies includes computers, sensors, artificial intelligence, and automation. You may also learn about electrical engineering and programming. Further studies could allow you to delve into manufacturing, computer-aided design, nanotech, AI learning and human-robot interactions.

Not only could you get a job designing and creating robotics machines, but you might put your education to use manufacturing audio and visual equipment and construction machinery. Alternately, you could work in a factory, on an oil rig or in any commercial or industrial sector in which robots are used and where you could provide technical support.

6. Vocational Studies

Other hands-on opportunities may be available to you as an ex-con though you’ll want to check with your local and state licensing agencies regarding the law and regulations on if you’ll be eligible. If you hare able to become licensed, you might want to consider a trade. Some colleges and many trade schools offer a variety of options for learning a new and profitable skill.

If you choose to work in construction, electrical, plumbing or HVAC, you may not be able to get licensed or certified with a felony conviction. However, you may be able to work as an apprentice or general laborer in one of these fields. Alternately, you might be able to work at new construction where you won’t have to go into people’s homes and interact with them.

One fascinating trade that always needs workers is that of welding. Welders are generally in high demand, and you typically work behind the scenes or independently, making it easier to get hired even with felony charges. Just remember that if it’s required, you may have a hard time getting bonded and insured, making it all the more important to do your homework before you decide on a trade.

7. Liberal Arts

If you’re not very number-oriented, a liberal arts or humanities degree may be right up your alley though you can integrate a technical component if you choose. Liberal arts is a very broad field that can be general or specialized. It’s best used when combined with a more specific minor or as a minor when you’re pursuing a different major topic of interest.

You’ll learn communication skills, critical thinking and even about human nature. These topics are all applicable in real-world situations both in and out of work. You can even add specialties such as technical and professional writing, which would be highly adaptable if you choose to freelance as a content writer, editor or even a transcriptionist. You can readily find remote work online in these areas where you can be your own boss.

In addition to freelance work, you may find employment with a language arts or humanities degree in consulting, creating instructional materials for other companies and other professional technical or writing gigs. Many of the skills and knowledge you’ll obtain with this degree are transferrable and highly desirable by employers.

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8. Substance Abuse Counseling

This is one area of personal connection where felons are typically welcome, especially if you’ve personally overcome any chemical dependency issues. Not only will you be able to help others to recover from substance abuse, you can make it more relatable by telling your own story as well.

For a substance abuse counseling degree, you’ll study a lot of theories involved in psychology and sociology, including abnormal psychology and social psychology to get an understanding of what often goes on in the human mind. Other classes involve the basics of addiction, delinquency, abuse, human services, ethics, dual diagnosis and interpersonal communication.

You’ll learn to identify behaviors that are associated with addiction and develop treatment plans. With your felony record, you’ll want to check if you’re eligible for any licensure or certification that’s required. However, many agencies hire ex-cons to counsel inmates while they are in jail or prison since you have experience in overcoming these obstacles.

9. Sustainability

With the world’s climate and energy problems, conservation technology continues to be a growing field. Having a sustainability degree will allow you to help work on solutions to the ever-expanding problems facing the world and humanity. Whether you’re interested in endangered species or improving the quality of the nation’s waterways, there are plenty of options with this degree.

You’ll learn about conservation, green technologies, biofuels and the delicate balance of ecosystems. Studies will also teach you how humans have impacted the environment and ways to reduce the impact. You may also decide to specialize on whether you want to work with energy, clean water, the land or animals.

Some jobs that might be available to you with a sustainability degree include those in solar, water or wind power, so you may decide to work installing solar panels or building or improving wind turbines generation. This degree can also help if you’re a social activist. Other areas of employment may include those with wildlife or in the forests.

10. Mechanic

Many companies large and small are willing to give ex-cons a second chance as a mechanic. If you prefer hands-on endeavors over classic book learning, this might be a field to pursue. However, you’ll still have to get that reading in to learn your stuff. With a wide range of establishments that provide different types of mechanics, you may work for a small, independent company or even a larger corporation as many of these are willing to give felons a second chance.

While you can certainly get a college degree at some places for a more well-rounded education, you may be able to find a trade school that will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to get started. You’ll learn about how everything in vehicles works together to make them run as well as specialized learning in engines, transmissions and sensors, which is especially important in today’s newer vehicles.

One of the great benefits of learning mechanics is that you’re not restricted to simply cars and trucks. You can learn to work on semis, construction or farm equipment and even airplanes. Additionally, while repair work is the most common option, you might choose to look for employment in manufacturing of parts for this type of equipment.

Recommended Online Programs

Explore our featured online programs to find the right match for you today.

How Do I Find a Job as a Felon?

While it can be difficult getting a job once you’ve been convicted of a felony, it’s not impossible. All it takes is dedication and persistence to get where you want to be. For more inspiration, there’s an article on Business Insider that describes how 11 convicted felons made changes to turn their lives around.

Be sure to check with your state’s licensing and certification boards before furthering your education. There are some fields where you won’t be able to gain the necessary credentials since you won’t be eligible as an ex-con. Although you may be able to gain higher education, there’s no point in wasting your time and money if you won’t be able to get the appropriate licensing or certification in your field of interest due to your felony background.

This can’t be stressed enough: Find out if you’re eligible to receive the proper licensing through your state boards before you start a degree program. If you’re not eligible for a job that you really want to do because of your conviction, it might be time to think outside of the box at related options that don’t require a license. For example, if you really love airplanes, you might not be able to be a pilot. Fortunately, you could still find a job that allows you to work on planes and maybe even get to catch a ride once in a while.

Some common fields that frequently exclude felons are law, criminal justice, medicine, education, psychology, and finance. Additionally, you may not be able to get into certain jobs depending on why you went to jail or prison. For example, if you were convicted on drug charges, you probably won’t be able to work in pharmaceuticals. An education degree is unlikely to land you a job if you were found guilty of a crime against a minor. No matter what your conviction, you may not be able to find employment that involves intensive customer interaction or puts other people’s lives in your hands.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing out there for you if you know where to look. There are plenty of opportunities for ex-cons, but you have to be willing to put in the work to make it happen. Try to find something you enjoy and where you’ll be able to obtain the skills to succeed. You may have made a mistake, but you don’t have to let that define who you want to become.

Even though you’ve paid your debt to society, you’ll still have to prove yourself to get where you want to be. Additionally, there are many employers that actively hire felons in addition to their traditional hires. While you may certainly find more options once you start researching, here are just ten of the best degrees and majors that you can pursue to start your journey toward your new life.

As mentioned, you won’t find everything that you can do listed here. These are some ideas that should get you excited about finding a career and related degree to get you started on a bright, new future.

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