As a teen with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), you were able to take the SATs untimed and you earned a good score.
But academic challenges in high school have left you with a so-so grade point average. Now, wary of the college admissions process in general, you're wondering whether or not to disclose the fact that you have ADHD.
Two words always apply to college planning: Start early. According to the HEATH Resource Center, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team begin to consider post-secondary school goals when the student is entering high school! Even if your teen is further along in his high-school career, here are a number of coolheaded strategies you can employ when facing application time.
Create a Top List of Colleges
Talk with your teen and members of her IEP team to decide what level of services she'd feel comfortable with in college. If your teen was recently diagnosed, it will be helpful to compare semesters before and after interventions were in place -- what made the biggest difference? Many colleges provide as-needed services for students with ADHD and/or learning disabilities while others offer structured programs.
Keep in mind that colleges are not obliged to alter their program requirements for students with learning disabilities once they have been admitted. Therefore, you're advised to take a realistic view of your teen's unique interests and abilities during the early stages of the decision process. The fact that your child may be admitted to a specific school doesn't mean he will thrive there. Pursue colleges that will meet your child's needs.
Develop a "hot list" of six to 12 colleges or universities that offer such programs and/or student supports. Find out the ranges of standardized test scores and GPAs for those admitted, keeping in mind that there's probably a margin of flexibility.
After you've determined what your child needs in a school, refine your list by figuring out what she wants. Your teen should have a clear idea of her academic strengths and weaknesses. Students with ADHD tend to do better in subjects they enjoy, so this can be a clue as to a possible major in college. Highlight the schools on your list that offer a course of study in this field. Then consider extracurricular opportunities. Does your child play a sport or participate in drama club? Would he prefer to stay close to home or venture out to another state (or coast!)? Does in-state tuition make the most sense for your family? Contact the student activities offices to see what's available outside the classroom, and talk to the offices of financial aid to see what type of package each school can offer.
Visit as many of the schools on your list as you can. In Learning How to Learn: Getting into and Surviving College When You Have a Learning Disability, Joyanne Cobb advises prospective freshmen that "College is not just a place to get an education, but a home and lifestyle for four years or more." An afternoon or an overnight stay on a campus will give you a much better feel for the school than the colorful brochure you received in the mail.
After the data collection part of the application process, sit down with your teen and go over the "hot list," which by now should include a range of significant factors (entrance difficulty, available majors, financial considerations, location, athletics, activities, and community resources). Evaluate the list and begin ranking the schools by desirability.
Should You Reveal Your ADHD Diagnosis on College Applications?
Before your teen begins to fill out applications, he needs to determine whether or not to disclose the fact that he has ADHD. If he's applying to specialized schools for students with learning disabilities, or if a school requires documentation of ADHD or a learning disability before it will provide on-campus services, the answer is obvious. But if he requires only minor accommodations, he'll want to give some thought to this decision.
By law, colleges and universities cannot deny entrance solely based on disabilities -- but they are also, by law, under no obligation to alter their admissions standards. Translated, this means that students with disabilities must meet the same criteria established by admissions committees for all prospective students.
However, most colleges do take note of extenuating personal circumstances, such as ADHD. Colleges and universities often maintain some leeway with regard to the qualifications for prospective students. The staff at the HEATH Resource Center suggests that high school students with learning disabilities consider disclosure, in order to show how their academic strengths and personalities mesh with their chosen curricula. A savvy student is in a position to enhance his applications by making a statement of purpose. By putting the proper spin on his learning difficulties, a student can show how, through proper diagnosis and tenacity, he has turned setbacks into triumphs.