College Degree Guide for Inmates & Prisons

When you are in prison, there’s a lot of time to think about things and to do something that can help you as a person. One of those opportunities is to study for a college degree. 

Can you get a college degree in prison? It’s possible, and the following resources can help you learn how.

Can You Get a College Degree in Prison?

It is possible to study for an undergraduate degree in prison. Degrees are part of the prison education program, which has options ranging from basic literacy to degree programs. However, there are limitations. For example, you will not be allowed to do an in-person degree at a physical college because of the restrictions involved in your sentence. But you can study for a degree using a correspondence method. In addition, access to the internet is limited in many prisons, so studying online can be difficult. Regulations also differ from state to state. But if you aim to use your time to study for a college degree, there are opportunities.

In addition, the government has widened access to education for prisoners, so there are now even more colleges with opportunities.

This is a good time to start a college degree as a prisoner because there is a lot of choice and access to study material. So, can you get a college degree in prison? Yes, and it is easier with the right support.

Education in Prison and Recidivism

Education in prison plays a significant role in preventing recidivism. Research has shown that people who improve their educational skills and qualifications are significantly less likely to re-offend on their release from prison.

The education programs have a range of courses for people to do while in prison, starting with basic literacy. Adults with low literacy skills are less likely to be employed and more likely to turn to crime. The Prison Studies Project showed that studying in prison is more effective than other interventions such as boot camps and vocational training when analyzed against the impact on recidivism. It also reduces the levels of violent incidents in prison.

Other courses for prisoners include vocational programs and college degrees. There is a wide range of subjects to study, from languages to politics. If you use your time in prison wisely, you can end up with some valuable qualifications that are likely to help you get work in the future.


The following statistics provide a better understanding of the scope of incarceration in the United States and the issues surrounding prisoner education.

  • There are 1.22 million prisoners in the United States, with 6.34 million in the adult correctional population. A total of $57 billion is spent on prisons and the prison population each year in the country.
  • A recent study showed that just 23 percent of prisoners in the United States did not re-offend once they were released. Of those released from prison and who re-offend, 43 percent commit another crime within 12 months of release.
  • The mean sentence in a U.S. prison is 28 months, which is sufficient time to get a college degree.
  • In terms of education, 30 percent of incarcerated adults have less than a high school diploma as a qualification. However, the same study showed that although 70 percent of adult prisoners wanted to study in prison, less than half did.

Steps for Earning a GED in Prison

If you plan to study in prison and earn a GED, you need to take several steps. There is a major focus on improving prison access to education because of its recognized benefits in preventing recidivism and facilitating integration back into society.

Although a third of people in prison do not have a high school degree, one of the most significant issues in that group is basic literacy. Many prisons make basic literacy skills compulsory, and prisoners are actively encouraged to work towards a GED.

If you do not speak English, you should make efforts to learn it through the prison education program so you can go on to complete a GED.

Some prisons make studying for a GED compulsory. Many of the courses are run within the prison service, but some are operated by correspondence. Some courses are run online, but it is essential to check whether there is access to the internet for students in prison.


Steps for Earning a College Degree in Prison

College degrees have a great impact on integrating people back into society instead of re-offending.

Your first step in working towards a college degree is to make sure you already have a GED or high school diploma. It would help if you had this to manage the study demands and requirements that come with the degree program.

In addition, some universities and colleges require you to be a U.S. citizen and to have not had any recent disciplinaries, so check the eligibility closely.

Next, you need to check whether your prison offers opportunities to study for a college degree. Although there is little data on how many prisoners study for college degrees each year, around 40 percent of prisons provide the opportunity. If your prison does not offer a college degree, don’t give up. Instead, speak to the prison education staff and ask, Can you get a college degree in prison? You could be the first and can pave the way for others by asking a simple question.

If your prison has a college degree program, start thinking about what you want to study and look for colleges that offer degrees in that subject. The range of topics will inspire you, so think carefully and take time to look at the course content and the type of material you will be studying. Also, check what support you will receive from the college, such as a named tutor.

Be sure to check the application process for degrees. Some work to deadlines and have annual starting dates. With others, you can start any time you like. If you are unsure how to complete the forms, ask for support from the prison education team. They can also check your application and advise on ways to word some of the answers. In addition, you may need to attend an online interview with a tutor so they can meet you and talk through the program.

Another important aspect of earning a college degree is study time. You will need to put in at least 10 hours a week and will need to plan time to study, write assignments, and possibly complete projects. And be kind to yourself. Studying for a college degree takes courage, especially in prison. Studying is hard work, and you have to be motivated. By enrolling in a college degree program, you demonstrate you are highly motivated, and this ability can help you when looking for work after prison.


Financial Aid Opportunities

A college education is not free, but there are several ways to access funding for a degree. Prison education staff may also be able to support you by looking for grants and funding.

You will need to link your application deadlines with funding deadlines, and some work on an annual basis only. There are also ways to get access to the internet to study if you are a prisoner, which will improve the opportunities available to you.


There are several opportunities for prisoners studying for degrees to get funding. If you are still wondering, Can you get a college degree in prison? this list will help you with funding and how to get support.

Advocacy Programs for Reentry

One of the most positive things about studying for a college degree in prison is that there is a network of people willing to mentor and support you to re-integrate into a job and new life once you are released. Mentors can offer practical advice and help you on your degree journey and with job hunting. Some of these people have similar experiences to you and have been prisoners but are now giving something back.

The National Hire Network helps people with a criminal record get back into employment and meaningful work. Career One Stop is another helpful organization that assists ex-offenders with returning and integrating into work after being discharged from prison.

As you have been through a significant experience as a prisoner, you could also be in a position to help others in the future. Examples include using your degree as a social worker or community officer. You can also help those who ask, Can you get a college degree in prison? because you will have been through the experience.

Additional Resources and Information

  • Top U.S. Universities: A range of universities in the United States to help you choose and decide if you can get a college degree in prison.
  • Study Techniques: Some techniques to help with studying for a college degree.

Degree types in the United States: List and short explanation of various degrees.

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