Does having a mental illness hurt my admission chances?

For most of my life I’ve struggled with depression, social phobia, and selective mutism which is a severe social anxiety. Because of this, I isolated myself a lot in high school and although wanted to participate in activities that interested me, didn’t because of my anxiety. My parents were immigrants to America and always assumed I was just a shy kid and that I would warm up, and they didn’t really have any knowledge of social anxiety disorders or anything like that. It doesn’t help that I recently got diagnosed with this and I’ll be entering my senior year of high school this fall. Although I’ve tried participating in clubs and have gotten some leadership roles, I feel like I’ll be rejected from any of the selective colleges that I’m aiming for because I don’t have that developed “spike” in terms of academic interest that they’re looking for and because having a mental illness wouldn’t be the best fit in a college setting. Does anyone have any knowledge about how college admissions officers view special circumstances like mental illness? Should I mention this in my applications or will it hurt my chances? Thanks in advance!

Plenty of people with mental illnesses do well in college. Your guidance counselor can address this, in terms of how it has impacted your participation in extracurriculars, particularly if you are starting to participate more as you learn how to cope. The key is you have taken steps to identify and address the problem. Mental Illness in and of itself shouldn’t impact you acceptances, though the way it impacts your life could indirectly do so, but like the student who has mediocre grades in 9th who shows slow improvement, addressing your issues will improve your chances. You do not appear to have one of the “major” mental illnesses that cause major concern; if anxiety and depression were rare on college campuses, they wouldn’t have their own dedicated counseling centers. Don’t let this add to your anxiety!

Thank you for your response! Would it be better if I left it out of my essays and personal statements and just let my guidance counselor explain it?

I don’t think you want this to be what defines you. Let the GC write about it if necessary but otherwise focus on what makes you an asset to a community. You sound like you have a lot of positive and interesting attributes.

Thank you for the reassuring reply! I think you’re right and I’ll just leave it up to my GC.

While it’s natural to want to get into “top” schools and certainly you want to gain acceptance to schools where the level of rigor and intellectualism is appropriately high, it’s also okay to have a poorer chance at gaining acceptance to schools that wouldn’t be a good temperamental fit anyway. The college admissions process favors extroverts, “leaders,” etc… and many of the most competitive schools have a very extroverted, “Type A” vibe. You needn’t feel as if colleges with a more contemplative and introvert-friendly vibe are “lesser” in any way. Look for someplace that fits your social style and your learning style, while still offering plenty of rigor and intellectual challenge.

If you elaborate a little more about your academic interests and stats, people here may be able to suggest some schools that could hit the proverbial “sweet-spot” in terms of being places that will challenge you in good ways while being supportive in the ways that you need… and that would also appreciate your style of achievement in the admissions process rather than simply looking for the “loudest and proudest” achievers.