Applying for Admission with an “Invisible” Disability – Part 2: What to Disclose

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.

univ_chicago.jpgFirst 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.


Applying for Admission with an “Invisible” Disability – Part 1: Where to Apply

A bright, high-achieving student (strong grades and test scores) who has an “invisible” disability has many more factors to consider in choosing where to apply and what to disclose in an application than a “typical” stuCollege Imagedent. Invisible disabilities include learning disabilities, ADD/ ADHD, Asperger’s/ ASD, OCD, anorexia, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease or other IBD, cerebral palsy if the physical differences aren’t very apparent, some hearing or vision impairments, sensory processing disorders, anxiety and depression. There are others, but what they all have in common is that people with these disabilities often “pass” and usually “look fine” while others have no idea how many challenges the individual is facing, often just to get through the day.

If this describes you, then the first thing is to decide where to apply. Beyond thinking about what you would like to major in or a general field of study and looking for schools that fit those requirements, think about what you need not only to survive, but to thrive.

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you get your energy from being around a lot of people? Or do you find social interaction exhausting and need time to yourself to recharge? Would you be happiest at a large university where you could meet a wide range of people and have many social, athletic, and academic opportunities? Or would you do best at a small, liberal arts college that you could walk around easily and where you might get more personal attention? Would you find a large university overwhelming or a small college stifling?

How about class size? Would you be okay in a lecture class with hundreds of students and limited contact with the professor? Would you feel too exposed in a small class of 8-10 students? Most colleges list average class sizes and faculty-student ratios, and a “virtual tour” online will give you a good idea of the campus and learning environment before you go for a visit.

Another thing to consider is location. Some students with hidden disabilities would do best closer to home, either for family support or for medical support. In fact, some may choose to live at home while attending college. Others are fine living away from home. If so, do you have supports in place – friends, family, medical? If not, can you establish supports before college begins? Do you know who to ask for support?

Is weather a factor? Are you sensitive to either cold or heat? Are dark, cold winters with streets and sidewalks that are hard to negotiate something to consider? What about heat or humidity? No place has perfect weather all the time, but you can certainly choose a location where the weather suits you better.

Besides climate, is physical environment important for your mental health? Do you feel you need to be surrounded by trees or near the mountains or ocean? Do you want to be near a big city so you can escape college life from time to time?

Let’s say you have now found 5-8 colleges or universities that meet your initial criteria in terms of academics, social life, size, and location. On the surface, these all look like places where you would be happy. If possible, you have visited them. If not, you have gone on virtual tours and read what other students say about the schools online. The next step is to consider your special needs, regardless of whether you or your current school considers you to be a “special needs student.”

If you currently have accommodations at school through a 504 or IEP, think about what accommodations you might reasonably expect to have in college. Some accommodations are common: extra time to take a test, taking tests in separate rooms without fluorescent lighting, note-takers in classes, and private dorm rooms. Some, such as an extension to complete a paper, can be arranged privately with a professor without involving a Disability office. What supports do they already have in place for students like you? Are they willing to work with you to get the help you need? Will they help you notify professors without revealing the exact nature of your disability? Do they have support groups where you can meet others who may face similar challenges? Do you feel comfortable asking for help? Can you advocate for yourself?

You also need to ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. A college student in a large lecture class or in a large dining hall cannot reasonably ask everyone to keep the noise level down because he has a noise sensitivity. A smaller college might be a better choice. Nor can a student at an academically rigorous college ask not to read as many books or write as many papers since those are areas of difficulty. Professors will be unhappy if they feel they are being asked to change the content and requirements of a class to suit the needs of a particular student. You may need to rethink either your major or the type of college (liberal arts colleges with lots of seminar-type classes are more reading and writing intensive).

Some of the groundwork on discovering whether a college or university is disability-friendly can and should be done before applying. If you are a student with a documented disability, before you apply, you or your parents can contact the Disability office as a “prospective student” to ask about accommodations. You may also be able to find some information on the college or university website. But specific questions about your particular needs can be asked after admission, preferably by visiting the Disability office in person.

If you do not currently have an official diagnosis and you think you will need accommodations or supports if you go away to college, then you can either seek a diagnosis before you go or find out what services might be offered without a diagnosis. Undiagnosed students might be more comfortable at a smaller college with more personalized care, but that is not always the case. Some large universities are so accustomed to dealing with students with disabilities that they have many resources already in place.

Most of all, before you apply think about what you need in a college environment to do well both academically and personally. Don’t be swayed by what others say you should be looking for in a college or where they had a great experience. Only you can decide whether a school is the right fit for you. If you choose properly, this is where you will call “home” for the next four or so years and where you may make some life-long friends.

In my next post (Part 2: What to Disclose), I will discuss how much information and what sort of information about your disability to reveal in your application for admission.

If you would like a personal evaluation and assistance with getting admitted to college or graduate school, please contact us at Admissions Unlimited.

Struggling with Target Schools? Go Global for Your MBA

So let me guess, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton right? But, since you know HBS only admitted 12% of its 9,315 apps for the class of 2015 with similarly intimidating statistics for their other top-ranked kin, you are trying to broaden your horizons. Beyond rankings, you research placement stats and recruiting companies, student life, return on investment, and location. You come up with a broader list: Darden, Duke, UT Austin and UNC. That is indeed a good start if you want to maximize your chances of admission.

Here is some food for thought as you consider your options: go global. If all business today, regardless of size or industry, is global, acquiring that kind of literacy is a pretty good idea. If you stay in your home country, your MBA experience may be excellent, but it won’t really be global no matter how international the program.

If you are from the U.S., certainly there are “diverse” programs you can attend. For example, Stanford has about 41% international students (including dual citizens and permanent residents). Not bad. But mingling with folks from abroad at home might not be the most effective way to go about developing a more global mindset.

Actually spending 10 to 21 months in another country for your MBA, on the other hand, is. And what about the recognition for recruiters, you say? Three European business schools are in the FT’s top ten 2014 ranking: LBS, INSEAD and IESE. If you look at the top 20, you have four more options in Europe or Asia: IMD, IE, Hong Kong UST and CEIBS.

The benefits of going abroad for your MBA are numerous. The principle advantages to consider more in depth are: 

  1. Foster a global mindset. In most European schools, being “international” is the norm and not the exception. At IMD (Lausanne, Switzerland), the 90 participants come from 45 different countries. INSEAD’s (Fontainebleau, France and Singapore) class of 1,000 students are from 90 different nations. Eighty percent of IESE’s (Barcelona, Spain) 280 students are international. Saïd (Oxford, England) has a student body that is 96% international. Judge (Cambridge, England) and London Business School boast similarly impressive stats. Developing a global mindset requires much more than travel abroad on short-term projects or rubbing elbows with more diverse classmates. It’s also about experiencing a day-to-day routine in a different country, expanding your boundaries, acquiring a second or third language, and perhaps placing yourself in challenging situations culturally and linguistically. 
  1. Program length. While some full-time MBA programs around the world offer a traditional, two-year format (IESE and LBS, for example), there are many more one-year options in Europe than in the U.S. Two-year programs are great for some people, but not necessarily a good fit for everyone. More experienced and older candidates who may not need a summer internship often find that a shorter program is a better fit.  The average age of an INSEAD student, for example, is 29 with six years of work experience. The program has two intakes per year (September and January), giving applicants a bit more flexibility about timing their applications and tying up loose ends at work. Students at IMD have an average of seven years of work experience and the average age is 31. If you have more than the “average” for U.S. two-year programs (typically age 26-27 with 4-5 years of experience), you may feel more at home in one of these environments.
  1. Return on Investment. Though the value of education is far-reaching and should not simply be reduced to numbers and income, undoubtedly a major concern for aspiring MBAs is how their degree will enhance their job prospects and income, especially considering the high cost of most top programs.  Forbes ranks business schools precisely on ROI, comparing, for example, the earnings of the class of 2008 in its first five years out of school to their opportunity cost. Kurt Badenhausen writes, “We rank the U.S. and non-U.S. schools separately, but a combined list would be a blowout for Europe. European b-schools have the seven highest five-year MBA gains in the world.”  Certainly, part of the reason is that one-year programs are more common outside the U.S. and therefore the period of forgone compensation shorter. Another is that average work experience going in is a bit higher, meaning that graduates are vying for jobs further up the ladder. But the ROI also says a lot for the name brand recognition of these schools for recruiters.

Overall, looking beyond the top 5 or 10 U.S. schools is a good idea when considering your options. Going abroad is another great possibility, but, as QS Top MBA explains in this article, there are other alternatives to consider. Think about what you really want to get out of the MBA and be realistic about your profile vis-à-vis your target schools’ selectivity. Most importantly, remember this is a unique opportunity that you will not be able to replicate again in your life, so aim to get the most out of it.

Why Don’t More Women Apply to Business School?

business-man-and-womanIt probably begins in high school. By now most people know that far more young women than men attend college, law school, and grad school. Even though young women fill the ranks of top students in high school and colleges, far fewer women than men apply to MBA programs and far fewer attend. Most U.S. colleges and universities typically enroll between 52-60% women, but among top MBA programs only about 35-42 percent of students are women. Why don’t more bright, motivated, college-educated young women go to business school?

As I said, it probably begins in high school. Looking at GPAs alone, one would say that women dominate academically in high school and college. But looking closer, their transcripts might tell a different story. As math and science classes get more complex and analytical, some young women start to shy away from taking them. Many young women take Algebra 2 or Pre-Calculus in high school, then declare to themselves that they are “done” with math, even if they are in the top 10% of their class. Or they may take AP Calculus AB and AP Biology, but not AP classes in Chemistry, Physics, Macroeconomics, or Computer Science.

In January 2014, the College Board revealed that only 19% of those who took the 2013 AP Computer Science exam and 26% of those who took the AP Physics C-Mechanics exam were female. The numbers weren’t quite so extreme in other subjects, but substantially more young men than young women took the AP exams in Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Chemistry, Computer Science, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Physics B, and Physics C Electricity & Magnetism. All these subjects require strong quantitative and analytical skills and can lead to well-paying STEM careers, including finance.

And yet young women take AP courses in other subjects in droves, taking 54% of all AP exams in 2013. Subjects that attracted 55% or more female test-takers included: English Language, English Literature, Psychology, Biology, Spanish Language, Human Geography, Studio Art, and Art History. The only STEM courses with more female than male test-takers were Biology and Statistics, but Stats attracted 51% women vs. 49% men (statistically insignificant!).

Many young women in high school and college head towards the humanities and social sciences rather than more quantitative fields. Unfortunately, if a student doesn’t build up a strong analytical background in high school, it is harder to acquire those skills in college where expectations are greater and the competition is fiercer. And if a young woman graduates from college with a major in psychology, environmental science, communications, or a foreign language, her job choices will likely be limited to those that emphasize “soft skills” rather than technical skills. And, if a few years later, she decides to get an MBA to improve her career prospects, she may need to take Calculus, Statistics, and Financial Accounting before she even feels ready to apply.

For high school girls who have no idea where their futures might lead them, it would be a good idea to take as much math and science as possible to keep their options open. For college women who aren’t sure what to major in or what classes might be important for a future career, calculus, statistics, and accounting will increase their options. For women who have already graduated from college, it’s not too late to take some additional quantitative classes during the evenings or weekends. Doing so will prepare you to take on job responsibilities that require analytical skills and give you the option to get an MBA – and a higher-paying job.

But, as I said, it all begins in high school. The academic choices one makes between the ages of 15 and 20 can influence an entire career, so choose wisely!

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss some ways that women can present themselves well to MBA admissions committees – and how that might be different from how men present themselves.

If you would like a personal evaluation and assistance with getting admitted to an MBA program, please contact us at Admissions Unlimited.

GMAT or GRE? The Choice is Yours

standardized-testAs you start preparing to apply to business school, one of the first questions to consider is which exam to take: the GMAT or the GRE.  The GMAT has been the exam of choice for MBA programs for years, but recently more and more programs have started accepting the GRE.   Primarily this is to attract more applicants – those who have already taken the GRE for another graduate school program, those with “non-traditional” backgrounds who may do better on the GRE, or those in countries where the GRE is more common.

But which test should you take?  The GMAT is typically favored by those with stronger quantitative skills, and the GRE is typically favored by those with stronger verbal skills.  One other consideration may be that you are not allowed to use a calculator on the Quant section of the GMAT, but one will be provided to you on the Integrated Reasoning section.  For the GRE, test takers are provided a basic calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section to be used for tedious, time-consuming calculations.

For business schools that accept the GRE, here’s a current list: MBA Programs that Accept the GRE

If you would like a personal evaluation and assistance with getting admitted to an MBA program, please contact us at Admissions Unlimited.

Don’t Like Your Score? Cancel It!

GMATGMAC recently announced that those taking the GMAT can now quickly review their score online and decide whether or not to keep it. This will take a huge amount of stress off of candidates who worry that they will be judged harshly if they retake the test multiple times.

You will still need to wait 31 days to retake the test and only take the test 5 times in one year, but that should leave plenty of opportunities to do well on the GMAT and get the score that shows you at your best.

Score Reporting Policies Give You Three Things to Think About.

The Great Divide: Action vs. Reflection at Today’s Colleges

A thoughtful post from a parent going through the college selection process with her child. What approach is best for a particular student: reflection, action, or an integration of the two? Worth pondering. (Disclaimer: I am a CMC alum, the college mentioned in the post.)

Jocelyn Davis

Yesterday, my daughter, husband, and I returned from college trip No. 2.  

E. is a rising high-school senior and in the grip of her obsessive parents, who are insisting that she visit every college to which she might apply. The schools on her list are scattered around the perimeter of the USA, which means 3000-mile road trips that are helpful neither to the family pocketbook nor to the family nerves. They are, however, very helpful for getting the feel of colleges.

E.’s interests are eclectic. Although she’s most attracted to small liberal arts colleges, we’ve also visited some large and mid-size universities that offer strong humanities programs. Naturally each institution comes across very differently depending on size (from 1200 to 40,000 students) and location (urban or rural, sunny or snowy), but what’s been most fascinating to see is the differences in how they present their mission.

Most of the…

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