Should You Disclose Learning Disabilities on College Applications?

As an admissions counselor, I fielded anonymous phone calls from parents asking if their student should disclose learning disabilities or differences on their application. That’s a fair question.

Some parents assumed disclosing the learning difference would signal a weakness. Perhaps colleges wouldn’t want to admit students who needed accommodations if they could fill their class with students needing no special accommodations. Other parents assumed it might give their kid a leg-up, so to speak. They thought it would help excuse the C in Pre-Calc or the lower SAT/ACT score.

I understand why parents might think both of those things, but in my experience neither of those assumptions were accurate.

Disabilities vs Differences

But first things first. Colleges and universities have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. You’ll find most higher education professionals are much more comfortable discussing learning differences rather than disabilities. Learning differently isn’t a disability.

The general assumption during application review is that, with accommodations, a student with a learning difference should be able to perform at a level competitive with others being offered admission. The fact the the student might need accommodations is not a negative. As long as the accommodations are among those the institution is able to provide, you aren’t reviewed differently.

It’s a false assumption that an application reviewer would label the learning difference as a weakness. A learning difference is not a weakness unless, even with accommodations, the student has not been able to demonstrate successes.

learning disabilities

Let’s say a student discloses a specific learning difference – dyscalculia – on the application. He/she received accommodations throughout high school, and the committee still sees that the student did well in math. As such, neither the dyscalculia nor the accommodations would be considered a weakness in the application process.

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In fact, it could show that the student was proactive in pursuing the help he/she needed. They’ve shown persistence in overcoming an obstacle that might have sunk others.

Conversely, if the student discloses the disability and accommodations thinking it will help explain poor grades, this could be considered a weakness. Colleges can generally only provide the same accommodations high schools provide. If the student received accommodations and was still unable to perform at a competitive level, the college cannot assume they’d excel in the college classroom.

So should you disclose the learning difference? Well, it depends.

Learning differences certainly don’t make earning strong grades in high school any easier. Colleges recognize that. But they also have to make sure they’re extending offers of admission to students who are most likely to excel in their classrooms. If you’ve been receiving accommodations for a learning difference and are still unable to submit a transcript that reflects grades consistent with everyone else being offered admission to that institution then I wouldn’t expect the institution to view your learning difference as a reason to excuse lower grades or scores.

So if your grades aren’t on par with the typical grades of students, I wouldn’t disclose learning disabilities and accommodations. It may come across as looking like an excuse instead of an explanation. If you’ve been receiving accommodations for a learning difference and have been able to excel, I would disclose the learning difference and accommodations. This can show your tenacity and makes your B in pre-calc all the more impressive!

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