In theory, all adults face the same consequences for the same criminal offenses. Although there is some discretion regarding the amount of jail time, length of probation or amount of money someone pays in fines after a conviction, the law sets clear maximum and minimum penalties so that everyone receives the same kind of justice.
However, criminal charges often have consequences beyond just the penalties assessed by the courts. There are numerous social consequences of criminal convictions. People from different backgrounds will have different long-term impacts from an arrest and conviction. College students as a group certainly have more to lose than other subsets of the population after a criminal conviction.
Some schools will take direct disciplinary action after criminal charges
Many colleges and universities have codes of conduct that they expect students to follow. Rules against criminal convictions are somewhat common at schools, especially rules against that occur while enrolled.
The school could summon you for a hearing in front of a disciplinary board. Your risk for such a hearing will likely go up if the alleged offense occurred on campus or involved school activities or other students.
Financial aid opportunities may evaporate after a conviction
Getting a college degree can be expensive, and modern students have to be smart about how they fund their schooling. Many students apply for scholarships and grants.
Private scholarships offered by outside organizations and scholarships offered directly by schools often have conduct requirements for applicants and recipients. A conviction might mean that you become ineligible before financial aid, especially because the federal government specifically asks about convictions on its standardized financial aid paperwork.
Criminal records will make gaining traction after college difficult
Those who get arrested and convicted of a crime while already working have an advantage. Their employer may retain them, allowing them to avoid the job search hardship so commonly experienced by those with criminal records.
Trying to get work when you are fresh out of college can already be a very strenuous and competitive process. Adding a criminal record to limit your opportunities made make it hard for you to earn a living wage or move into the career for which you went to school.
Recognizing the dangers of a conviction as a college student rather than assuming you will receive leniency can help you make a good decision about how you defend yourself when facing a criminal charge.