explaining illness in college aps

<p>Dear all,
My daughter was diagnosed with MS in Jan of 10th grade. She missed most of the winter term. The school fac&administration was very helpful and D dropped two classes, but managed to catch up with the other 6. As a junior, she repeated the two classes that she had dropped the previous year, and carried a full academic load. She is now a senior and is doing well academically and physically. However MS is an insidious illness and sometimes there are issues with cognative fuzziness (like during the Eng AP and SATs, despite extra time) .
How and at what point would you suggest bringing up her health on the college ap? Her counsellor will surely mention it in her recommendation. The teachers providing her other recommendations knew her both before and after the health difficulties. D doesn't want to write her essay about MS because she feels it does not define her. I would like the colleges to understand just how hard she has fought to get back on track, and how difficult it is dealing with a chronic and unpredictable illness--but I don't want to blow her chances for getting into the school of her choice either. Would you just let the teachers deal with the issue?
thanks for your thoughts.</p>

<p>ps: Her passion is technical theatre and she wants only to go to Emerson.</p>

my son's grades were not what they could have been due to the family disruptions of caring for my frail and elderly parents at home. Like your D, my son did not want to touch on in in his essays. In his junior year, I went in for a conference with his GC bringing a written description of our home situation. She read it - and then told me about her home situation - a disabled husband from a car accident, and one daughter blind: you never know where you will find a kindred soul. If your D's school has been helpful thus far, they're not going to drop her in the college admissions game. I suggest bringing in a written description (including her improvement) because that will make it easier for the GC to write the rec. </p>

<p>Many apps include a spot for 'other' information - my son included a brief description of the grandparent situation. That might be a good place for your D to mention the inner strength she has gained from this trial.</p>

<p>Please encourage your D to look at other schools - many fabulous ones out there! Best of luck to your family.</p>

<p>My D's college sent out recommendation forms for parents to fill out. You could address the challenges she has faced, if Emerson had anything similar.</p>


<p>I suggest you help your daughter contact the office of student services or disability services at the colleges she wants to attend. I also urge her to reconsider writing her essay about her experience. Her illness doesn't define her but the way she responded to it does, and that's what her essay should address. </p>

<p>Colleges don't want sick students just because they are sick, but they do want students that have maturity acquired by dealing with and overcoming difficulties. For instance, she could write about how hard it was to make up the 2 missed courses in her junior year. She would briefly describe her illness to provide context, but the point would be how well she handled the consequences of her illness and what she learned about herself and others in the process.</p>

<p>Most colleges (if not all) have a disability department and are able to help students with medical and other disabilities. It can be a complicated process, however, and it's good to get started early. I doubt your daughter would be happy attending a college that isn't supportive of her needs and medical condition. Typically, you first document the disability - in this case you would need your phsycian to fill out the college's form documenting that she has MS, which is probably considered a chronic medical condition and classified as a disability at her college. </p>

<p>The next step is to determine what accommodations (special considerations and assistance) she needs. Your physician can help you with this decision, and you can also consult with the college disability office to see what accommodations they offer for chronic medical conditions. The most common would be an accommodation for class attendance, where your daughter would be excused from class when she has a flare-up without needing a doctor's excuse. It's more difficult but this accommodation might also apply to tests, so your daughter could have time to take tests if she has a flare-up. In my experience, autoimmune diseases like MS are aggravated by stress and college tests are good times to be stressed, so it's wise to plan ahead and have resources available for your daughter to rely on if problems arise. I think it would be a much bigger problem for your daughter if she waits to notify the college or her professors about her MS and to ask for assistance when a flare-up occurs, especially if it occurs during a testing period.</p>

<p>You might also look at the Learning Differences Forum and consider posting a thread there. There are a few threads that deal with medical disabilities that might also be helpful. </p>

<p>Good luck to your daughter. I greatly admire her.</p>

<p>If your D doesn't want to write her essay about her illness, that's fine. Her counselor, however, should include info in the recc that shows how your D's illness affected her life and how your D has worked hard to rise above it. To ensure that the info is detailed, your D should provide this info to the counselor along with the other info that she gives the counselor to help with her/his recommendation. This should include information about extracurriculars, community service, awards, etc. Even if your D has told the counselor this info before, she still should put it into a memo because the counselor has many recommendations to write, not much time to write them, and it's easy to forget to include specific details.</p>

<p>Do not, under any circumstances, write an essay about the illness. The essay should be about her.</p>

<p>If she must mention it (which would be the sensible thing to do), that information goes into an addendum.</p>

<p>The applications I've seen all have room to add anything you think would be important for the college to know when assessing the applicant. Even if the applications your daughter sees don't have this, she can always send in supplemental information or request an interview.</p>

<p>"Do not, under any circumstances, write an essay about the illness. The essay should be about her."</p>

<p>My older son missed a year of high school due to Lyme disease and dealt with the sequelae for two years of high school afterwards, impacting his performance. His high school warned him NOT to write about the illness in his essay. He did write about it, however. </p>

<p>This was our rationale: Without writing about his illness he risked being seen in an unfair light --without the illness, his accomplishments could be seen as much less than they were. An illness like this ends up shaping you, strengthening you, propelling you. Doing well despite this, fighting back against this, requires such strength and determination. It is a more profound life event than most teens without such an illness have experienced. It precludes so many 'normal" experiences yet heaps other experiences that have life-altering effects.</p>

<p>If you can express this in the essay, as my son did, then I think you should go for it. We ignored the advice to avoid this in the essay because we felt doing so would make it difficult for the schools to see our son fully.</p>

<p>He was accepted at Brown, U of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, NYU with almost-full merit scholarship and other top schools, many giving him large merit awards. This despite the fact that he had just 3 AP classes and a number of Bs. My son is now a junior at Brown --and I know, based on the outcome, that our instinct regarding the essay was right.</p>

<p>The key to such an essay is to explain how you grew from the experience and gained qualities, abilities, and insights you would not otherwise have. Explain how you see the world differently, work differently, appreciate differently than you did before.</p>

<p>My DD wrote one of her essays about how her brother's repeated (18)surgeries affected her throughout her childhood. How she learned to focus on what was important in life and how capable she felt being able to take care of her younger sister (a way to help out). She learned to focus on her schoolwork despite the craziness around her, but she also learned to not sweat the small stuff... She was accepted everywhere she applied.</p>

<p>Would it be appropriate for a GC to mention a parent's serious, ongoing illness in the recommendation? My student does not want to write about it in an essay. On the other hand, it has been a significant part of the past several years, even though it has not affected his performance at school. </p>

<p>I am inclined not to address the issue, but was interested in hearing other opinions.</p>

<p>Yes, it would be appropriate for the GC to mention anything like a parent's serious illness or any other major challenge that would have affected the student. It's also fine for the student to mention this, particularly if the student isn't writing about it in a "pity me" way, but is describing how s/he overcame challenges or was inspired by the parent's plight to become a doctor, volunteer with people with similar problems, etc.</p>