View Full Version : Hard Decisions for Learning Disabled

11-04-11, 09:39 AM
Published: November 3, 2011

The admissions process can be stressful for even the most gifted, organized students. But to applicants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities, the path to college can feel like a maze. The Choice addresses some of the issues such students face.

1. Should a student who has struggled with A.D.H.D. or dyslexia disclose it when applying to college?

The answer, like so many aspects of college admissions, depends mightily on the particular student. (Testing companies keep confidential whether a student was given extra time on the SAT and ACT, so that’s not an issue here.) Edward de Villafranca, an independent consultant and former admissions officer and high school counselor, puts it this way: “The decision to disclose or not isn’t actually one of ‘Will it hurt my chances?’ but rather one of ‘Is it helpful to know?’ ”
Disclosure early in the admissions process is often recommended for applicants who need to provide context — a legitimate reason grades might have dipped uncharacteristically from 9th to 10th grade, or why a standardized test score seems abysmally low when compared with an otherwise stellar academic record.
n the other hand, an applicant with strong grades and test scores may decide not to raise a red flag — maybe learning issues were not an academic impediment, or are no longer relevant.
“The primary risk is having the essay read by someone who doesn’t understand learning disabilities, someone who thinks A.D.H.D. is a hyperactive kid in fifth grade bouncing off the walls,” said Rachel Masson, director of admissions at Landmark College in Putney, Vt., which offers an associate’s degree and is exclusively for students with conditions that impair learning. “Legally, of course, admissions officers are not supposed to hold it against a student,” she added. “The reality is, we’re all human and there is that human factor involved.”
However, Ms. Masson suggests that once admitted but before putting down a deposit, all candidates with issues seek out the campus office that coordinates support services. (Applying for special services is typically separate from the admissions process.) Students will want to ensure that the institution has the proper experience and sensitivity as well as a community of students wrestling with similar challenges.
2. Once the decision is made to tell, the question remains: where and how?
Students have several places to explain their learning issues on the Common Application: the main essay, short-answer portion or the very last portion of the application, where supplemental information is sought.
That’s where Rose Valliere, a 23-year-old who transferred this fall to Keene State College in New Hampshire from Landmark, chose to reveal her condition — A.D.H.D. and difficulty with reading comprehension. Ms. Valliere, who is studying to become a dietician, didn’t offer much detail. She decided, “Don’t make it the star of your application, even though it may feel that way for you

I asked Marybeth Kravets, co-author of “The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students With Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” about Ms. Valliere’s approach. She didn’t disagree — some students “may not want to blow it up out of proportion.” But for many students, she said, the main essay, particularly where it asks about a critical experience and its impact, is a good place to introduce a learning disability.
She imagined how a student might construct an answer: “You might note that on my transcript, there was a struggle in mathematics. Understand that in third grade, I was diagnosed with dysgraphia. It took many years for me to understand how I learn. Now look at me. In senior year, I’m in A.P. Statistics.”
(For a college that does not accept the Common Application, a supplemental essay can be attached
aise a red flag — maybe learning issues were not an academic impediment, or are no longer relevant.

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