Should I Disclose Learning Differences on the College Application

Learning disability concept and dyslexia or ADHD disorder

Disclose Learning Differences on College Application…or Not?

Nearly every week a student or two will ask me if they should disclose learning differences on the college application. Generally speaking, students don’t want to give a college any reason to generate any preconceived notions about them. Even though colleges have come a long way in terms of understanding and accommodating learning differences, most people don’t understand the varied range of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, processing disorders, or ADHD. As a result, some students simply don’t want to risk the possibility that an uninformed individual will review their applications.

Other students, however, see good reason for to disclose learning differences. They want to actively pursue accommodations at the college level, and they may view disclosing their learning difference as an opportunity to provide an explanation of something unusual on their transcripts.

Learning Disabilities and College Success

Should a student with a learning disability share that information on the college application? This is a tough call. In some ways, a learning difference is a sort of “secret identity” that might best be kept secret. But for some students, it is essential that they disclose their learning difference in the admissions process.

A 2007 survey from the Association on Higher Education and Disability reported that just 28% of students with learning disabilities graduate from college. And only 25% of students with an identified learning difference take advantage of the services available to them on campus. Perhaps this is because many students want to shed the label and stigma of “special education” and are unwilling to ask for the help they need. Or maybe they believe that because they have entered the college arena they need to be completely independent. Even the decision to initially disclose a learning disability is tough. Should students disclose this information or keep the diagnosis private?

High school vs. college

During the school-age years, a student with a learning disability is identified formally so that she can receive appropriate instruction and services. In this environment, school faculty and staff understand the complexities of managing life with a learning disability. Therefore, opportunities for the student to practice self-disclosure of her disability are rare and infrequent. Then again, because it is illegal for colleges or universities to directly ask if a student has a disability and because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) no longer applies after high school graduation, a student no longer has to be identified as learning disabled if she doesn’t want to be. Obviously, students who are applying for a specific program targeted towards LD students will disclose a learning disability without hesitation, but others may feel more hesitant.

When deciding whether or not to disclose a learning disaility, consider the following questions:

  • Why would my student want to disclose his learning disability?
  • What are the short and long-term risks and benefits of his decision?
  • What’s in it for my student?

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Determine Whether to Disclose Learning Differences

Students may want to disclose learning differences, however, if they meet the following criteria:

  • The student enrolled in some special education classes in high school. Official transcripts will list all resource, support, or special education classes.
  • The student did not take all of the high school classes that a college requires for admission, such as a foreign language, and the college is willing to waive those requirements for LD students.
  • The student’s grades were consistently lower as a result of a learning disability.
  • The learning disability was identified later in his high school career, and the student’s grades noticeably improved after it was identified.
  • The student’s learning disability dictated the classes and activities he pursued in high school.
  • An explanation of the choice of classes will help an admissions officer better understand the student’s circumstances, abilities, and motivations.

If you’re hesitant to disclose your learning difference on initial applications, be sure to weigh the pros and cons because the ramifications of your decision can results in dire consequences.

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A Whole New World: Disability Laws at the Post-Secondary Level

One of the biggest issues facing students with learning challenges and their families is the difference in laws that govern schools that service K-12 versus schools at the post-secondary level.  In this section, our aim is to help you better understand the transition from the laws and procedures in IDEA to the legal protections that apply to college students.

Until a student goes to college or until the semester he turns 21, he is protected by IDEA. IDEA specifically requires that K-12 schools actively seek out students with learning challenges and provide them with the services and the assistance they need to be successful in the classroom. Once a student enters college, however, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) take over.

FAPE: the K-12 standard

Section 504 requires a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each student with a disability.  Students are evaluated at no cost to families and Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, are formulated. As a result, students may receive tutoring and other academic services and aids during the school day as dictated by their IEP. Transition services are also required by IDEA, and it is this plan that helps to ensure that students have taken the appropriate courses for college entrance and received the necessary accommodations when completing college entrance exams, such as the ACT and SAT, if they qualify.

How do things change in college?

Students with a disability leaving high school and entering post-secondary education will see differences in their rights and how they are addressed.  Unlike high school, the college or university is not required to provide FAPE. Rather, a college is required only to provide appropriate academic adjustments or accommodations as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of your disability. In other words, focus shifts from academic success to academic access.

Therefore, colleges are not required to seek out students with learning challenges and are not required to provide any diagnostic services. They are also only required to provide “reasonable accommodations.”  Students with learning disabilities or ADHD, however, may be entitled to reasonable academic services and aids based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, and ADA. These laws mandate that all colleges and universities in the United States that receive any federal financing cannot discriminate in the recruitment, admission, or treatment of students with disabilities. This law allows your student to request modifications, academic support, and auxiliary aids that allow him to participate in and benefit from all of the programs and activities that colleges offer.

More Legal Considerations: What Accommodations MUST Colleges Provide?

Because there are no guidelines under IDEA, Section 504, or ADA that require colleges and universities to accept documentation that does not meet their guidelines, each college has the right to develop its own guidelines and adhere to them.  For that reason, campus attitudes and services can vary greatly.  However, under the provisions of Section 504, colleges and universities cannot:

  • Limit the number of students with learning challenges that can be accepted for admission
  • Ask questions on applications that require a student to disclose a disability
  • Ask students to complete pre-admissions tests without academic assistance when eligible
  • Exclude a qualified student from a particular course of study or major
  • Counsel a student with a disability out of a particular program due to the disability
  • Limit eligibility to students with disabilities for scholarships, internships, assistantships, or financial aid

Remember, each college will determine appropriate academic adjustments based on the area of disability and individual needs. Some services, however, are mandatory.

Examples of these services are:

  • Extra time on exams
  • Allowing tests to be individually proctored, read orally, dictated, or taken on computer
  • The use of a system to provide notes
  • Adaptive technology that includes computer hardware and software that allows students to access materials
  • Note takers who take notes in your classes for you
  • Access to specialized, professional tutors

Keep in mind that many colleges offer services beyond what the law dictates.  Most college campuses welcome students with disabilities and have existing policies and procedures in place that make requesting accommodations an easy, worry-free process.  For instance, schools may provide access to learning centers and learning specialists and offer developmental courses, tutoring services, and study skill workshops.  To learn more about the specific services a college provides, ask the Office of Disability Services about all of the services and aids offered on campus.

Students with Learning Differences: Getting Started with the College Search

Whether or not you decide to disclose a learning difference, choosing the right college for a student with learning difference can be tough. So many factors enter the conversation. But one of the most difficult issues is to connect past struggles and successes with predictions of the sorts of environments that will minimize those struggles and maximize those successes in the future.

Some students yearn to “be like everyone else,” to not stand out. They spend energy and effort in trying to make it without any special accommodations. Some students succeed, although typically at considerable cost in time and energy. Others simply fail. Some students spend lots of time worrying if their grades are deserved or if they are being graded too liberally. They want to make it in spite of their disability, not because of it. Some students come from sheltered high school settings where many things were done for them. When they arrive at college, they have many unfulfilled expectations and feel angry and bitter about the perceived lack of support. Some students are able to adjust to the rigors of college; many others, unfortunately, are not.

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

Most students who have difficulties in postsecondary education, however, do not fall into any of these categories. They experience difficulties because they are not good at letting others know what they need in order to be successful. In other words, these students have poor self advocacy skills.

There are many different reasons why students may not be good at communicating their needs. Some feel shy about approaching professors. Others are reluctant to ask for needed accommodations because they do not want to be a burden or because they do not want to be treated differently. Some do not know what to say and what not to say to professors. Others fear that their request will not be honored or respected. Regardless of the reason, research shows that when students get assistance from their professors, they feel more positive about themselves and their professors, and they increase their chances of academic success.

Advocacy starts with honesty

Your student can become her own advocate by becoming proficient at realistically assessing and understanding her strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests, and preferences. The first step is to sit with a professional and review the documentation to be sure your student understands and can effectively communicate her area of disability. Be sure she is comfortable and confident in communicating her areas of strength and weakness as well as all accommodations she has benefitted from in the past. 

Assess Motivation and Independence

The next step is to complete a self-assessment and examine critical questions involving your student’s level of motivation and independence. Author Michael Sandler identifies six questions to assess self-motivation and independence in students with ADHD that can be adapted to students with any learning difference.  These questions can help identify specific attributes that you and your student must consider in researching an appropriate college setting. Do you..

  • …need support and structure in high school?
  • …routinely need help from others to keep you motivated and focused?
  • …thrive on individual attention from teachers?
  • …prefer to immerse yourself in a subject?
  • …need a high energy environment?
  • …have trouble falling asleep?

Career goals, college selection, and learning differences

When selecting a college, you and your student should consider what it is your student hopes to obtain from attending college, so identifying a long-term goal is critical in the selection process.  Most students decide to pursue a college education in order to seek professional employment or move forward in career planning, However, many students change their minds and their majors in the first, second, or even third year of college.  Keeping this in mind, it’s important to recognize your student’s long-term individual goals and to select colleges that offer the educational programming to meet them.

Let’s consider the following career-oriented questions:

  • What degree is needed in order to reach the career path your student has selected?
  • Does the college offer a program of study that matches your student’s career goals?
  • Do your student’s academic skills and interests match her career goals?
  • Are these interests identifiable with a career or are they better suited for a hobby?
  • Will specific learning disability-related obstacles prevent your student from reaching her career goal?

Choosing the right college location: How independent are you?

Students with learning challenges must not lose sight of the fact that college life extends beyond academic needs. Rather than basing your decision solely on whether or not the college has a strong disability services office, be sure the college can meet all of your needs and preferences. Examining needs and preferences, the location of the campus, and career goals will help your family select a college that best matches individual needs. Remember, there are a variety of resources available to students with learning differences.

Moving away from home can be challenging for students regardless of whether or not they have a learning disability.  However, some students with specific challenges may experience higher levels of anxiety and may not yet be prepared to live independently. Determining whether location of the college campus should be a priority in college selection is dependent on several factors.

Measures of independence

  • How independent is your student?  Does she independently manage her responsibilities or does she need adult guidance?  Does she independently manage things like cooking, laundry, and managing finances?
  • Is the college located in a small town or a large city?  How will this impact your student’s decision?
  • If your student chooses to live at home, how far of a commute is it?  Is public transportation available?  Can she access it independently
  • Does your student want to live with a roommate or does she prefer to live alone?
  • Is your student able to say no to peer pressure?

Your answers to these questions will help you evaluate your student’s level of academic and social independence.  Beyond this, also consider things like accessibility to medical providers and your student’s ability to maintain relationships with family and friends within a specific mile radius.

Assess Other Student Needs

Once you have examined your student’s needs and preferences, consider other elements of the college decision, including finances, prestige, student life, availability of academic programs beyond the major and disability services (such as study abroad or specialized facilities), and the activities the student enjoys or wants to explore in college.  In this way, the college search is no different than for any other student.

However, it is vital that students with learning disabilities—and their families—place that learning disability squarely at the center of the decision.

As we highlighted above, students with learning differences graduate at less than half the rate of neurotypical students.  You must fully discuss and decide what services, facilities, technologies, and personnel you will need to be successful in college. 

College Graduation Is the Key

This is the key consideration: do not think so much about college admission; instead, think about college graduation. What do you need to be successful so that you can graduate from college with the major you want—on time and on budget? 

Of course, every student is different. But we have seen students with learning differences who have failed to graduate because they were in denial about the importance of putting their learning differences front and center in thinking about how to choose the right college. 

Fortunately, we have also worked with many, many students with learning differences of all types who have successfully chosen colleges that have matched every aspect of who they are as a student and a person. You do not need to limit your college choices just because you have a learning disability. However, you ignore your own learning challenges at your peril. 

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The Disability Services Office – How Much Help Do You Need?

High school students who have typically relied on the support of their parents and other adults when it comes to negotiating accommodations will find themselves in the driver’s seat when they get to college. Most parents and professionals involved with preparing students with learning disabilities for college would agree that independent decision-making and the ability to express one’s needs are two critical elements of self-advocacy. However, success with making decisions and communicating one’s needs can be intimidating. In the college classroom, for example, a student with dyslexia who processes written material more slowly will need to step up and do some self-advocating. If he doesn’t, it can mean the difference between passing and failing.

Given that self-advocacy is equated with success, establishing a positive relationship with the disability services office needs to be a top priority.  And remember, you have the right to access these services whether or not you disclosed your disability on your application to college. Whether or not the admissions office knew of your dyslexia or ADD or other challenge before you were admitted, you are eligible to take advantage of those services—as long as you have the right documentation of your diagnosis.  We will discuss documentation requirements below, but first, let’s look at the different levels of support that different colleges may provide. 

Finding the Right Fit – Levels of Support for LD Students at the Post-Graduate Level

The level of support for learning differences varies greatly from college to college.  In this this section, we will summarize these different levels of support. As you review them, consider which level of support would be best for you or your student. 

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD are applying to colleges and universities at increased rates. And while colleges and universities are making progress in leveling the academic playing field for qualified students, campus attitudes and special services programs continue to vary. Unlike public schools, colleges and universities are required by law only to make “reasonable accommodations” for qualified students with learning challenges. To find programs that are a good fit, it is helpful to think about disability support programs in terms of three main categories.

Basic Programs

“Basic” programs are also referred to as limited, self-directed, or decentralized programs, and they only offer accommodations required by law, such as note-taking assistance and un-timed testing. Most colleges and universities fall into this category and are best suited for students who received consultative services only at the high school level. For students with on or near grade level reading, writing, and math skills, strong self-advocacy, and consistent time management skills, the assistance of basic programs provide the necessary accommodations for academic success.

Coordinated Services

At the next level of support are programs described as “coordinated” services. These programs provide services beyond the required level. Students will have access to at least one specially trained staff member who may have input on admission decisions and offer study skills classes, tutors, and other support services at no additional charge. These programs are typically best for students who demonstrated on or near grade level skills in high school, but needed support in requesting needed accommodations and in effectively managing their time.

Structured Services

Programs offering the highest level of support are described as “structured” or “proactive” programs. They often require students to sign a contract and charge additional fees ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 a year. They offer modified coursework and specially trained staff that monitor individual student progress. Fewer than 100 schools fall into this category.

To determine the best program for your student, students and their families should schedule a meeting with the disability services program on campus. Sitting down with staff from the disability services program, which every college and university should have, will give you an opportunity to learn more about the program, the staff, and the services available to students with learning challenges. Once your family has had the opportunity to see the program and meet its representatives, you and your student will be better able to evaluate the college’s academic and extracurricular activities, college climate, and its disability supports for getting you into – and out of – college.

Documenting Your Learning Disability

Let’s assume that you have decided to disclose your learning disability. Before filling out that application, you really should contact the disability services office by phone or by email and request all materials you will need to start the application process. Colleges love to send out information, and among the materials they will send your family are the documentation guidelines.

Something you’ll notice right away is that families (not high schools) are responsible for verifying that existing documentation meets the college or university’s requirements. To be safe, request additional copies of your student’s evaluation results from your high school or testing service provider. You might also need to schedule an appointment to complete additional testing or to provide some supplementary information. Be advised: preparing this documentation can take time, so complete this step as early as possible in the application process. Also, allow the disability services office sufficient time to review the information and become familiar with your student’s accommodation needs.  Any delay can mean a postponement in receiving appropriate accommodations.

Documentation: How much is enough?

Colleges typically use your student’s age, the evaluator’s assessment approach, and the level of detail provided in the last eligibility evaluation to determine the level of support she will receive at the college level.  The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which is the primary enforcement agency for college access under Section 504 and ADA, makes the following points about documentation in their booklet Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post Secondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities:

Recommendations from the US Department of Education

Schools may set reasonable standards for documentation.  Some schools require more documentation than others.  They may require you to provide documentation prepared by an appropriate professional, such as a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician.  The required documentation may include one or more of the following: a diagnosis of your current disability, the date of the diagnosis, how the diagnosis was reached, the credentials of the professional, how your disability affects a major life activity, and how the disability affects your academic performance.  The documentation should provide enough information for you and your school to decide what is an appropriate academic adjustment.

 “Although an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, if you have one, may help in identify services that have been effective for you, it generally is not sufficient documentation.  This is because post-secondary education presents different demands than high school education, and what you need to meet these new demands may be different.  Also, in some cases, the nature of a disability may change.If the documentation that you have does not meet the postsecondary school’s requirements, a school official must tell you in a timely manner what additional documentation you need to provide.  You may need a new evaluation in order to provide the required documentation.”

So, how much documentation will be enough? 

Documentation: Six Core Elements

Based on a review of decisions of the Office for Civil Rights, the following six core elements should help you evaluate your current documentation:

1. Documentation should contain a clear statement identifying the area of disability

Classification codes from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) or the International Classifications of Disease (ICD) are helpful.  Specifically, be sure the documentation includes the dates of the original diagnosis and any evaluations performed by referring professionals, along with a date and description of the most current evaluation.

2. Documentation should contain information regarding the current functional impact of the disability

A psycho-educational battery of tests consisting of standardized tests that measure aptitude, achievement, and cognitive processing is the most common approach for identifying and quantifying a learning disability, and it is likely to meet the minimum requirements for documentation at any college or university.  Current functional impact on physical, perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral abilities should be described in narrative, and when formal or informal testing was used, the details of the results should also be included.

3. Documentation should include information about treatments, medications, and assistive devices and services

While it is important to specifically describe treatments, medications, accommodations, assistive devices and assistive services that your student is currently receiving, it is also important to include a description of their estimated effectiveness in minimizing the impact of the disability.

4. Documentation should provide a description that provides information about the expected progression or stability of the disability over time

Include a description of any expected change in the functional impacts of the disability over time. Also include information about any recommendations concerning the need for re-evaluation of the disability, especially if your student experiences flare-ups or episodes.

5. Documentation should include recommendations

Because recommendations must be reviewed and approved by the college or university, all recommendations should be directly linked to the impact of the disability.  When connections are not specific, they should be explained in detail.

6. Documentation should contain the credentials of the evaluator

If your student’s documentation does not contain a letterhead or form, be sure to include the credentials of the evaluator.  Furthermore, if the credentials of the evaluator are not typically associated with the diagnosis of the disability, be sure to include a brief description of the evaluator’s experience with this type of diagnosis.

Remember, in order to receive accommodations at the post-secondary level, documentation must demonstrate that your student has a disability as defined by the ADA and Section 504. Colleges grant accommodations when existing documentation clearly links the current impact of the disability to the requests your student is making. To avoid complications, always investigate the specific documentation requirements for the colleges your student is likely to attend by either visiting the college’s website or contacting the college’s disability services office.

How and When to Disclose Your “Secret Identity”

Once you’ve decided to disclose your learning difference, the question shifts to how and when you should disclose it. Regardless of the application and the college, you should definitely disclose your learning difference in writing. Generally, there are three different ways to disclose your “secret identity.”

In Your College Essay

Oftentimes, students will address the main essay prompt by describing how their learning challenge impacted their academic careers over time. One of the essay prompts on the Common Application, for example, asks about a “background or identity” that is important to the applicant. Many students for whom their learning challenges have been front and center throughout their lives may be tempted to write about this aspect of their lives.

Another Common Application prompt, in fact, asks students to discuss a challenge or setback that they have experienced, and to write about how they overcame it.  This prompt is also a favorite of students with learning challenges, because it becomes a way to spin the challenge in a positive manner. 

Despite the centrality of a learning difference to a student’s experience, we actually advise our students against using the main college essay as a way to disclose a learning difference.  

Why you shouldn’t write your college essay about your learning difference

Our recommendation is based on the idea that a student with a learning disability generally doesn’t want that difference to be the defining characteristic of their personality. Furthermore, a learning disability by itself is not an “achievement.” Rather, it is something that the student must deal with day in and day out. While a learning difference can have a HUGE impact on a student’s daily academic routine, it is not necessarily the thing that makes the student most proud, or for which the student wants to be remembered in the admissions office.

The personal essay offers all students an opportunity to share with the admissions office something that is enormously important to that student. It allows the student to give a three-dimensional portrait of who they are not only as a student, but as a human being. Thus we recommend that our students use this valuable piece of their application to share their values, ideals, and personal insights.

Our recommendation

At Great College Advice, our recommendation is that students share the facts of their learning differences in a different way. Remember that applicants are usually asked if they want to add any additional information. If so, write a personal statement consisting of 150-200 words and attach to the application packet. Regardless, remember that your statement should not be presented as an excuse for academic difficulties. Be confident, honest, and positive. Also, don’t forget to include current, professional documentation of your disability and your need for accommodations.

As “Additional Information” on the Application

Both the Common Application and the Coalition Application offer an “additional information” section in which the student can offer supplemental information that is not otherwise addressed.  This could be an excellent place to describe the learning disability briefly, and explain the impact it has had on your learning.

This description and explanation should be clear, concise, and matter of fact. It should have a clear, positive tone. Don’t make it whiny. Moreover, it should not be written as some sort of “excuse” for poor grades or other difficulties in school. Nor should not drone on for a long time.  250 words should be plenty to get the main points across.

And what is your main point? The central theme of this essay should be that you have a diagnosed learning disability and that it has an impact on how you do your schoolwork. If there is a connection between the disability and your grades or the courses you decided to take, simply point it out. For example, a dyslexic student might point to generally lower grades in language-based courses or to the decision to avoid a foreign language in high school.

You are not defined by your learning difference

Understandably, some students find it ironic that the disclosure of something that looms so large in their day-to-day life can be summarized in only 250 words. This is partly because of the feelings that the learning difference can evoke. For some students, it is really like a beast that must be slain every day. 

Nevertheless, “disclosure” is a revelation of the facts. It is not the place to discuss the ways in which this beast has made you feel frustrated or angry or lonely. It is not the place to talk about the emotion you felt—after years of struggle—when you were finally given a formal diagnosis and the commensurate accommodations.

Rather, focus on a general theme: I have a learning difference.  It affects me academically in the following ways. I’m doing the following to adjust to this difference. I use the following accommodations. I’m improving, or I continue to do well, or I continue to struggle in the following ways (as the facts suggest).  Finish with a sense of pride and accomplishment that while you will always have to wrestle your own particular beast, you know you will accomplish your academic goals.

Simple. Factual. Concise. No embarrassment, no shame, and a positive view of your future.

In a Separate Written Communication with Admissions

The same writing guidelines above apply to writing a separate communication to the admission office. However, why would you want to send a separate communication?

No space on the application

Many application platforms neither require nor give space for writing essays of any sort. In this case, you cannot disclose your learning difference on the application itself. If you feel that disclosure will help your chances of admission, then you should connect directly with the admissions offices of the universities to which you are applying. We recommend you try to connect with the member of the admissions staff who is responsible for handling applications from your school or region or state. Often, you can look up the admissions staff on the website and learn which staff member would be most appropriate. 

Sometimes, however, you may be unable to find such information. You can try calling the main admissions number, but even then, you may not be able to get the contact information of a specific person. If that is the case, ask the person answering the phone how you should handle your intention to disclose your learning difference. You may be instructed to send your email to the main admissions address. In this instance, do these three things.

How to send your disclosure in an email

First, submit your completed application prior to writing your disclosure email. Second, make sure the email subject line has your application number or identifying code on it. This will make it easier for the admissions office to match your email with your completed application. Third, make sure that the body of your email includes enough identifying information to ensure that the email is matched to your application file.  At a minimum, include your home address, your phone number, your high school, and your date of birth. 

Best use of space

Even if your application does provide an “additional information” section in which you can disclose a learning disability, it may be in your interest to do so in a separate communication.  You want to make sure that the additional information section provides as much high-quality information about you as possible. If you have more important things to share in that section, then use the space for those important things. For example, if you have research abstracts or publication lists or music awards or other achievements that do not fit elsewhere on your application, then the “additional information” space is where you should describe and amplify those accomplishments.

Once again, you are more than your learning disability. While it looms large in your daily life, it does not define you.

Your LD is a fact

Think of it this way: your learning difference is an interesting fact about you, just as your ethnicity, citizenship, and parentage are interesting facts.

Of course, the whole reason for disclosing your learning difference is to give context to your academic performance. The admissions officer needs to know this fact in order to interpret your course choices and grades.

Whether the admissions officer learns this interesting fact about you on the actual application or in some other communication will not really matter. Instead, use every opportunity to give a full 360-degree view of who you are as a person. You want to demonstrate all your accomplishments, positive attributes, interests, and plans and ambitions for the future.

Your learning difference may provide crucial context to all those things. However, a learning disability is not your primary, defining characteristic. Your disclosure is a strategic choice to help you in the college admissions process. But you are much more than that.

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Whether to Disclose Learning Differences in College Admission: A Summary

Disclosing a learning disability in the college admissions process can be a difficult decision.  However, as you make this decision, keep in mind these basic considerations:

  1. Will disclosure help or hurt your chances for admission? In most cases, disclosure helps more than it hurts.
  2. Understand how your learning difference will be accommodated while you’re in college. Specifically, understand legal changes.
  3. Assess your own learning needs. Err on the side of planning for more accommodations than you think you need right now.
  4. Ensure that the documentation that identifies your learning disability is no more than three years old before you enter college. Whether or not you disclose in the admissions process, you will need proof of your diagnosis if you are to receive any accommodations at all. Even if your diagnosis is mild or doesn’t present great obstacles now, you should have this documentation just in case.
  5. Make sure considerations of your learning disability are factored into your college choice. It doesn’t need to be the leading factor, but your academic success—and eventual graduation from college—requires that you include your learning difference in your decision-making.
  6. Carefully consider how to disclose. Do so in a way that presents you in the best possible light. Your learning difference is an important fact that gives context to your academic achievement, but it probably isn’t the most important thing about you.

You can do it!

Your learning difference is an important part of who you are as a student. However, it does not need to define you as a person. It doesn’t limit your ability to succeed in life. Embrace your difference, just as you embrace your hair color, your skin tone, your hometown, and your family circumstances.

Or, as the French would say, “Vive la difference!”


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