For a student with mild ADHD, what are the pros and cons of disclosing ADHD in the college application?

Hi parents with ADHD kids,

I have a rising junior with mild ADHD, which has certainly had exacerbated impact from on line learning in 2020-2021. He complained the challenge to focus during zoom classes. He certainly does not have straight As in the first two years of high school. He struggles with executive function skills such as time management, task initiation, and sustained focus.

Although we are still a year from his college application, I am thinking ahead and was wondering if we should disclose his mild ADHD in his college application and use it to explain the Bs he got. He is working very hard to stay on task, but still struggles often with his executive function skills or lack of. Or would disclosing ADHD will shed a negative light on his application and colleges without good learning difference support program will just reject his application? Any past experience to share would be greatly appreciated.

One thing to add is that we have hired tutors for him to help with time management, but I am not seeing a lot of progress, unfortunately. Recently he has started medication and we will see if that helps.

Generally the consensus is not to mention it

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Thanks for your reply! Could you share why it is not recommended to mention it?

Colleges are notoriously risk adverse. They care about their graduation rate, and may assume that a kid with ADHD may be less likely to graduate. Also, a kid with ADHD could be more costly, especially by way of time for accommodations.

So, while this ideally should not affect your kid’s chance of admissions, realistically, it will, even though admissions will not come out and say this.

There are, in fact, absolutely no pros to disclosing this until and if your kid is enrolled at the college. Then he should go to the appropriate offices and get the accommodations that he needs. He will not get any better services if he discloses this before that point.

While you should not disclose this to the college, you should take this into considerations when deciding to which college he should apply, and which he should attend.

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I know the received wisdom is not to write about it, but my middle son did, and he had a lot of success with admissions. However, he wrote about it in the context of his summer job on a farm where he realized he actually was an incredibly hard worker, and where his adhd was an asset in seeing things other people missed (eg saving a choking calf’s life; no one else noticed it was choking). His essay was about more than adhd too though. He wrote about it in a positive way; definitely not to explain low grades – and he had a C in 9th grade physics, and some Bs through the years. (He’s at Emory now)

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Better not to mention this. The college might assume, rightly or not, that high school tests and standardized tests were taken with extended time, and might expect that the student would seek accommodations. Just have your son apply to the schools that match his stats and interests. The likelihood is that he would do best at a school for which his high school record qualifies him, since the difficulties he has had during high school will not go away when he is graduated from high school; in fact, if he’s going to be living away from home, the loss of home support might exacerbate these issues.

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lots of good advice here About the Learning Differences and Challenges - LD, ADHD category

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@Four_leaf_clover does your son receive accommodations & modifications at school?

Your counsler can put something in their report when they write it. You never want to make excuses. Also his Adhd doesn’t sound mild. Biofeedback, developmental optometry, meds are all helpful.
This book has many great strategies for Adhd kids even though it wasn’t written for that reason. It’s a fun quick read but this might help. They go over how to study in small chunks etc which again is what some Adhd kids should do. Sorry to divert but he will also need a school with lots of support.

S23 attends a school that specialized in kids with LDs.
He chose not to disclose. He felt his academic record was a fit for the schools he’s applying to. He will disclose after acceptance and meet with the Academic Support Center with a very clear explanation of the accommodations he needs backed up by a neuropsych.
I’d say that unless your son shows drastic improvement due to coaching or meds, then don’t disclose. If he’s still struggling, applying to schools that are reaches is probably not a great strategy. If he shows dramatic improvement, and you feel like those reaches might no longer be reaches if he were just judged on his last 2 years, he might want to include it in the section where they ask if there is anything else they should consider.

Times people might want to disclose:
Is ADHD your “superpower”? How does it give you an edge? (this is a theme at DS school)
Have you done a lot of advocacy work, tutoring or awareness work?
Have you made such drastic improvement that your before/after (meds, interventions,etc) show a clear contrast and you can talk about in a meaningful way?

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Thank you all for your helpful responses! His psychologist said he has mild ADHD because his overall school performance is decent. He does not want to ask for extra time since his SAT practice test is above 1500. I have read the recommended book and found it helpful. He has also read it but needs a lot of reminders to follow the advice from the book.

I do not know how parents feel. I feel quite exhausted reminding him many times everyday. To give him the support he needs, I have decided to transition to part time work from full time work. He is a 2E kid. Is there a parent support network for this kind of high schoolers? Thanks again!

He receives some extra time for exams for a couple of subjects for math and science.

He struggles with big English essay writing. Any suggestions on accommodations we should request for him?

@Four_leaf_clover you’ve gotten some great advice.
As far as receiving accommodations in college, make sure his IEP is fully in place, up to date before he graduates, so he can take it to college with him. It’ll be up to him to meet with Office of Disability (may be called something else at other schools) to get it set up.
Personally I wouldn’t disclose the ADHD, like others have stated. I’d work on getting meds lined up-hoping they work-and work on getting him structured & scheduled. And I’d also seek a college that will be a good fit for him. Perhaps high school counselor, doctor that diagnosed/prescribed his meds and an outside college guidance counselor could all give suggestions on where to apply, help with his application.

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My kid is 2E and a lot of the groups are a bit over the top. Stick with the ADHD groups.

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I would also start lessening the dependence on you asap. He will not get that level of support from any college, and if he does not start to be independent, college will not go well.

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@roycroftmom agree :100:!

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Cannot agree with this. At all. There are a number of schools with a variety of differing levels of support. The book “The K&W Guide to colleges for students with learning differences” is a good start. Some colleges are specifically for students with attention/Learning issues (eg Beacon, Landmark, etc) and some scools have specialized programs within their college/university (eg SALT at U Arizona https://salt.arizona.edu/ , Curry, Hofstra to name a few) and many students use ADHD coaches in HS and college (and beyond). These are all available to help the student learn/develop organizational skills. If a student has a vision problem, one wouldn’t take away their eyeglasses and tell them to learn to focus.

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When you say ‘explain Bs’ I read that as saying "he’s smart enough that we think he should be in a more selective school than his grades might get him into, and an explanation might make the difference.’ He needs a place where he can shine, and it might not be the most selective school you can find a way to help him to get into.

@vwlizard mentioned academic fit, and that is the key for your son. Many colleges have support systems for students with LDs, but (as @roycroftmom
pointed out)none of them will be able to offer anything close to the level of support he is getting now. Maturity will definitely help- but think early 20’s, not the day after he turns 18- which is when you lose all ability to intervene. Pushing to get him into the most selective school possible may not be doing him a favor.

@cinnamon1212’s point about her son discovering that he is not ‘lazy’ (what so many ADHD kids are accused of!), and his actual strengths is the other piece of the puzzle. Figure out the areas where your son is strong, and look for places where those are valued.

As an anecdotal example, we learned that settings with lots of continuing assessment (ie, homework, quizzes, tests, projects, etc) were miserable for our ‘mild ADHD’ collegekid- but put her in an environment where she only had to take subjects she loved, and was evaluated on a few large pieces of work and she thrived. It’s counter-intuitive- how can a kid who can’t get simple short daily homework done have the self-discipline to study adequately for finals that cover the entire academic year?? To my genuine surprise, very well.

eta: @jym626, nobody is saying ‘take away the glasses from the nearsighted student’- but as having Bs on the academic record is not going to an obstacle to admission to any of the schools you list, and the OP is worried about Bs, I am surmising that s/he is shooting for more selective schools.

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There are also colleges like Cornell College (Iowa) that offers one subject at a time. There are many options for a student with ADHD to succeed by providing/offering different opportunities to seduced and differen levels of support. I would again encourage the OP to read the LD/ADHD forum here on CC.