Should You Disclose a Disability When Applying to College?

Students with disabilities often wonder whether to discuss their diagnoses on college applications. It’s a great question, and a very personal decision. In general, there’s no reason to assume that disclosure will either help or hurt a student’s chances of being admitted to college.

One reason to consider reporting a disability on your application is to provide an explanation for something that might otherwise be puzzling to the admission committee, such as an unusual pattern of grades on your transcript, a transfer between high schools or a large discrepancy between your grades and standardized test scores. If your grades improved in the middle of high school because you were diagnosed and began receiving the proper accommodations or treatment, for example, mentioning your disability might reassure admissions staff that you will continue to do well in college. The Common App has a section where you can include additional information like this that would be helpful to application readers. 

In some cases, students view their disability as a central part of their story or identity, and feel that it’s essential to write about it in their admission essay so that college staff will truly understand them. I’ve had students who were Deaf or autistic describe their challenges and accomplishments with pride on their applications–and with excellent results. 

Whether or not you disclose during the application process, once you’ve been accepted and put down a deposit at the college you plan to attend, I recommend you reach out to the Disability Services Office (sometimes called the Accessibility Services or Student Access Office) and set up an appointment. You can provide any relevant documentation you have (e.g., neuropsychological evaluation, doctor’s letter) and discuss the accommodations and services you’ll need. Even if you’re not sure whether you’ll use the accommodations, it’s better to have them in place just in case. Set yourself up for success, and have an amazing experience in college!

Eric Endlich, PhD, founder of Top College Consultants®, helps students with learning differences or emotional challenges transition to college. An experienced clinical psychologist, Dr. Endlich is on the advisory board of the Asperger/Autism Network, the Learning Differences/Neurodiversity Committee of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, the health advisory board of Personal Best/Oakstone Publishing, and the editorial board of the International Journal of Rehabilitation and Special Education. Dr. Endlich has recently co-written a book, Older Autistic Adults, In Their Own Words and has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology courses at Boston College, Tufts University, Suffolk University, and UMass/Boston.

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