I have already written about what factors a bright, high-achieving student (strong grades and scores) with an invisible disability should consider when choosing where to apply, especially whether the college or university will be able to accommodate your needs if you enroll. The next question is how much information about your disability to reveal.
First of all, if you are applying to a very selective (admits fewer than 50% of applicants) or a most selective (fewer than 25%) college or university, then you need to be strategic. Many more students will apply who are “admissible” in terms of grades, scores, activities, and recommendations than the college possibly has room for.
So, the folks on the admissions committee get to read through all those applications, selecting first the ones who seem most admissible (grades and scores), then sorting through those to see who looks the most appealing. And then they read through the rest of the applications looking for those without the best stats, but who may have something else to contribute (i.e., “diversity” in all its various meanings). Each file gets read by two or three admissions officers, and some applications are discussed by the entire committee. If the committee cannot agree to admit a candidate, but isn’t ready to deny, then a place on the waitlist may be offered.
As an applicant you cannot possibly know what they are looking for other than the published class profile of previously admitted students since institutional needs vary from year to year (such as a particular type of athlete or musician or legacy). You do not know who your competition is, so there is really no point in worrying about that.
Ultimately, university admissions is subjective and may not make sense to outsiders. Those who work in admissions are very loyal to their schools and they have a feel for what they are looking for in applicants beyond objective criteria. It’s often called the “wow factor.” They know it when they see it. They also have a very fine sense for “red flags” – something problematic in the file whether it’s academic or personal.
A disability may be considered problematic, depending on how it is treated. If you focus on hardships, the college may worry that you will need more accommodations than they are able to offer or that you won’t be able to handle the demands of a rigorous college environment. If you have symptoms that come and go with little warning, the college may worry that you won’t be able to attend classes or finish your degree in a reasonable amount of time. If that’s the case, they may prefer to admit someone whom they believe has a greater likelihood of completing their college education. Remember, highly selective colleges get far more applicants who can handle the work than they could possibly admit, so they can choose the students whom they think will fit the best at their school. This is perfectly legal.
If your disability is “invisible,” then think carefully about whom you reveal it to and why. You are not required to disclose a disability in an admissions application. If your disability has not unduly affected your academic career, if your accommodations (if any) have been minimal, then the best strategy may be not to mention the disability.
You may object that you have heard that colleges are looking for diversity and students with disabilities add to diversity. You may also object that you have worked hard to overcome the challenges associated with your disability and you want to talk about those in your application. You may feel you want to be an advocate for those who have your disability and show others what can be accomplished. You may feel that this disability is an important part of your identity.
Yes, but… how is your disability perceived by the public? Are you comfortable telling everyone you meet that you have this disability? Can you explain to others what it means to live with it? Are you confident that once you reveal your disability that some people won’t think you are less able to achieve certain things? Do others consider your type of disability to be an impairment? Or do they view it neutrally? Is there a risk that someone reading your essay might think you are somehow damaged or fragile or less able?
If your disability is not perceived negatively, then consider whether discussing it adds to your application. If you have had this disability your entire life and can discuss it with objectivity, then you could address the obstacles you have overcome and leave the impression that living with this disability has allowed you to become more mature than your peers. End on a high note, making it clear that managing this disability has made you stronger and absolutely ready to face any challenges you might meet in college. In this instance revealing a disability could make your application stronger and help you stand out from others with a similar academic background and activities.
Also, if you believe your disability has negatively affected your grades, then explaining this in an optional essay could be helpful. You may not be considered academically competitive at the most selective colleges, but revealing a disability could help you find a college that is a good match.
Discuss your decision to disclose or not disclose with your family and, if possible, with someone you trust outside of your family. If they agree discussing it will reflect positively on you, then focus on what you have gained and how you have grown. Good luck!
If you would like a personal evaluation and assistance with getting admitted to college or graduate school, please contact us at Admissions Unlimited.