The simple answer is, yes. There is nothing to legally prevent you from attending college. There is also nothing to keep you from getting financial aid, unless you also have a drug conviction. So yes, you can go to college.
That being said, there are a few things you have to be aware of.
First, individual colleges and universities may have their own rules about registered sex offenders (or other people with felony convictions) attending their institution. Some college applications will ask if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony. Some will not. Search the website for the college or university where you want to go and see if they have any established policies.
Second, you have to register your attendance at college. You may have to register it in up to three places. You will have to register with your local police (wherever you do your regular registration.) Then you will need to register with the police in the city where the college is (if it’s not in the same town where you live.) And finally, you will need to register with the campus police (if they have one.) It’s a hassle, but it is doable.
Third, don’t listen to people who tell you that felons can’t get financial aid. There is no law (at least in Illinois) that keeps felons, or registered sex offenders, from getting financial aid, including Pell Grants, MAP grants, and student loans. The only restriction is on those who have a drug conviction, but even that has a time limit. So if you plan to go to college, apply for financial aid.
Fourth, even though you may be admitted to college, you may or may not be permitted to live in the dorms. This is up to the college or university, but in general, the trend has been to ban registered sex offenders from college dormitories.
Finally, there are always risks involved when you interact with other people. Your name is on a public registry, so it’s always possible someone will find out and say something to you. If you are tough and can handle such a thing, then don’t worry about it. Just be mentally prepared in case it does.
I spent years in graduate school AFTER my conviction, and though it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll have an easier time getting a job, it has been a source of personal satisfaction for me. I’m a strong supporter of education, and I believe you will benefit from getting a college degree.
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