ADHD in College: Should You Disclose Your ADHD when Applying to a College?

Health Writer
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_Should you disclose your ADHD on your college application? There isn’t any right or wrong answer, but it is a question you should give some thought to before making a decision. _

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any schools, including colleges and universities, that receive federal funds from discriminating based on disability. ADHD is a protected disability; however, a diagnosis alone does not guarantee you are covered under this law. Under the law, a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Also, you must be regarded as having a disability, have a record of having been viewed as being disabled, and be able to participate in your education.

This means that if you disclose your ADHD on your application, a college that receives federal funds cannot decline admittance based on your ADHD. But that doesn’t mean it never happens.  Colleges do not need to disclose their reasons for not accepting a student.  To the admissions committee, ADHD might be viewed as having a higher potential for academic and behavioral issues and therefore when there is a choice between a student without ADHD and one with ADHD, the admission committee might choose the student they believe will be the least disruptive. Discrimination against ADHD isn’t allowed under the law, but that isn’t a guarantee it doesn’t occur. Fearing discrimination, many students might opt to not disclose ADHD.

There are times, however, that disclosing ADHD on the college application can be positive. A diagnosis of ADHD can explain discrepancies on your transcripts. You might have a high GPA but a low SAT, or vice versa. You might have received good grades in some classes but not in others, or your grades might have fluctuated throughout your high school years. You might have been diagnosed in the middle of high school, and there is a big difference in your grades before and after your diagnosis. In these cases, your ADHD helps to tell your story.

Some students might believe that it is necessary to disclose their ADHD on their application if they are going to request accommodations once they get to college. This isn’t true. Applying for accommodations is separate. Once you are accepted, you can contact the Disability Office at the college and discuss how to apply for accommodations and what documentation you need. According to Elizabeth Hamblet, Learning Specialist at Columbia University, “all colleges — from community colleges through Ivy League schools — have to provide some accommodations for students with ADHD.”  The only reason you might need to disclose your ADHD on your application is if you are requesting accommodations during orientation, such as extended time on placement tests or support during the registration process.

If you do choose to disclose, one way to do so is to include information on your disability in your application essay. CHADD, a nationwide advocacy organization for ADHD, suggests weaving information on your disability and how it has taught you to overcome adversity into your essay. You also can add how you have managed ADHD symptoms through high school and how you will use these strategies to succeed at college. Your essay, however, should not be exclusively about your ADHD. Include information about your strengths and interests. Colleges are looking for well-rounded students who will become assets to the school.

See More Helpful Articles:

Asking for Accommodations in College

How to Know if a College is ADHD-Friendly

10 Considerations when Choosing a College for a Student with ADHD

5 Tips for College for the Student with ADHD - Teenagers

Self-Advocacy in High School and College


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.