Applying for college is one of the most difficult and stressful things
a young person will ever do. So much seems to be riding on every word,
every box checked or unchecked. The pressure is on to put his or her best
foot forward, to maximize their desirability as a candidate. Each one
struggles with frightening questions. How honest about myself should I
be? How much about myself should I reveal? It’s hard for everyone,
but it’s likely a great deal harder for students with learning disabilities
and attention issues.
College acceptance rates can be dismal. It’s not unusual for 75 percent
of qualified applicants to be rejected (for the Ivy League the rejection
rate is often above 90 percent). Given those odds, a hopeful teen might
be excused for wanting to hide any learning exceptionalities such as ADD,
ADHD, dyslexia and so on. But is this the right course to take? In which
direction should parents, education consultants and tutors steer the applicant?
For starters, colleges, in theory, aren’t allowed to reject applicants
with learning disabilities. But it’s easy to imagine someone getting
a down check, “off the record” as it were, for being outside
the median. At the same time,
some say that exceptionalities can be an advantage, because colleges prize diversity.
Indeed it might be very advantageous to combine a strong application that
includes good grades with a full disclosure of any learning disabilities,
perhaps in an essay detailing the hard work and dedication required to
attain those grades.
It seems that not disclosing any learning disabilities would be the safer
route. There is no law that demands disclosure, so it’s a matter
of choice. According to at
least one source, only around a quarter of applicants disclose their learning disability.
But if this is the path taken, then it’s important to ensure that
any required assistance is available -- in other words, skip it in the
application but disclose immediately upon acceptance, as the school will
have facilities and staff who can help.
The view of one college counselor:
In truth, there are no hard rules about disclosure, and both approaches
offer potential advantages and pitfalls. If disclosing, try to make the
most of it. If keeping quiet, make sure it doesn’t result in problems
down the road.
One day, it might become standard practice to include some simple boxes
to check, nice and simple and straightforward, with no consequences for
being honest. But sadly, society still tends to view exceptionalities
in a negative light. Students, therefore, will have to continue in college
what they do in high school: combat not just the effects of their ADD
or ADHD or dyslexia, but the weight of judgement that comes along with
them. In time, one hopes this will change.
Maybe one day.