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College Applications

An Overview of Learning Differences and Disclosing on Applications

Picture of Amy Chatterjee & Christina Mangano
By Amy Chatterjee & Christina Mangano on August, 11 2021 | 4 minute read

Editor’s note: August can be an exciting time of year for rising seniors. The Common Application officially goes live for the upcoming year, ushering with it the start of application season (but don’t worry, nothing is due urgently!). For those students with learning differences, it can be confusing to decide how to disclose that information on applications, and to whom. To help navigate the decisions, we’ve asked our resident experts to weigh in on why we use the term learning differences (or disabilities), and how to decide who to disclose to in the admission process.

To start, we’ll dig into some basic terms to define a learning difference (or disability) and make sure we’re using the correct terms.

Is the term learning disabilities correct?

It’s not literally correct, but it’s legally necessary. A student with LD certainly does have the ability to learn. However, in specific areas, learning may be challenging because of the unique way their brain is organized to receive, process, store, retrieve or communicate information.

So why is the term still used?

In order to be eligible to receive the service and protection offered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a person must be classified under one of the 13 different disability classifications. While Learning Differences is a more accurate term, it doesn’t carry any legal weight. So for legal reasons, the term remains, and it is still used by many LD Associations. When not in a courtroom, feel free to use the non-legal term Learning Difference, or the collective “LD.”

What’s with the slash between LD/ADHD? Is ADHD a learning disability?

ADHD is not a learning disability, but it can affect learning both negatively and positively. It is covered under IDEA within the category Other Health Impairment.

Why don’t I see an Office of Disability Support Services on a college website?

Unlike the Admissions Office, there is not one straightforward name for this department. Search “college name; disability services” to be directed to the office which may have a well-intentioned name such as Learning Center, Student Resource Center, Academic Success Office, or Office of Accessibility.

 

Now that you’re familiar with the terms, let’s dig into the discussion of disclosing. When you apply to college, you’ll have the ability to disclose information in your application – either in additional information in the Common App, or an extra box in many applications that ask for additional details on your background. For many, this can be a confusing decision. It’s unclear how admission will use this information, so it’s hard to know when and why to share it.

So, here are five important things to know about disclosing a learning disability to a college.

    1. The presence of an LD will not get you into college, nor will it keep you out.
    2. Anything disclosed to admissions will never be relayed to the disability services office, professors, or anyone else on campus. Once you are accepted, that information is filed away and never shared. That’s up to you to do once you are accepted.
    3. If you disclose to the disability services office, they will not relay that information to anyone else on campus either. They will not share with admissions, your professors, or advisors without your direction.
    4. It is important to visit or speak to the disability services office when applying to check the level of support offered, the documentation required, if an additional application is required, and if there is an additional cost.
    5. Smart people know when to ask for support. Every single person has things they are able and unable to do. What’s important is that we work to the best of our ability, ensuring we make use of every possible resource.

Now, to Disclose, or Not to Disclose?

Yes, that is often the question, and it can be confusing to decide who to share this information with, and how. Below, we’ll break down how to disclose, to whom, and when.

Disclosing to the admissions office: Students do not have to disclose an LD on an application, and colleges are legally prohibited from asking about them.

However, disclosing an LD on an application should certainly be considered if:

  • The transcript indicates resource and support courses
  • There is an absence of high school classes required for admission, such as a language, or
  • The learning disability was identified later in high school and grades noticeably improved afterward

In general, we lean toward disclosing, especially when you have learned what support you need, have advocated for it, and have found ways to make high school work for you. That level of self-advocacy and awareness is compelling, and it’s likely a big part of your high school story. Colleges would want to hear that.

Disclosing to the disability office: Once admitted, the answer to this one is Yes, Yes, and Yes. Students might not be sure they will need or use accommodations, but by registering with the disability office, they now have the option to do so if needed. 

Disclosing to professors: It is a student’s responsibility to tell a professor about needed accommodations. The reason for the accommodation does not need to be shared; the professor only needs to know there is a registered disability and which accommodation was granted.

 

Q&A

If a student has an IEP or 504 in high school are they automatically granted accommodations in college?

No. The plans do not travel with you. A student must register the disability with the college’s disability service office and provide documentation indicating proof that an accommodation is needed.

Is there a college plan similar to the high school IEP or 504 plan?

Accommodations can be provided in college, but it is driven by the student. Except in specialized programs found within a few colleges, professors, advisors, and counselors do not develop and implement a plan for success.

How will professors know if a student needs accommodations?

It is up to the student to inform the professor that the disability office has approved accommodation. The student is not required to disclose why it is needed; they only need to indicate what specific accommodation is needed. This can be done by email but may be more effective if done in-person during office hours.

Can’t a student just wait until they need accommodations before registering with disability services?

They can, but they shouldn’t. It’s like waiting to see if it rains before buying an umbrella. By the time you get one, you’re already wet. It’s better to have access and then use it if needed.

 

 


About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


 

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