Students often worry about calling attention to anything that is a negative on a college application, but just because you ignore something doesn’t mean admission officers won’t notice it. They might see that your math scores on the SAT and your grades in Algebra and Pre-Calculus are low. But you won’t be in the room to explain that despite the fact that math has always been a struggle and you have such anxiety about math that you freeze on tests, you pushed yourself to take a fourth year of math because you didn’t want to avoid difficult courses. If you don’t tell them, admission officers won’t know that you stayed up past midnight studying each night and went to the teacher after school for help every week, and that earning a C+ was actually an accomplishment.
That doesn’t mean you share everything about yourself in a college application. There is no reason to write about how your recent break-up with your boyfriend left you devastated and you couldn’t concentrate on testing and that is why your scores are so low. If you were treated for an eating disorder two years ago, that information does not need to be included in your college application, unless there was a dramatic drop in grades during that time. If that was the case, you would want to emphasize the fact that since you were treated, your grades have been strong and you have been healthy. Whenever you consider disclosing personal information, think about how the information you provide will help admission officers understand your application.
Students often wonder if it’s in their interest to disclose a learning disability. There are differences of opinion about this, but disclosure will enable an admission officer to look at your academic record in context. If you were diagnosed with a learning disability later in high school, and your grades improved after you received needed accommodations, you want admission officers to understand that your early grades were not due to lack of motivation. If you have developed compensatory strategies and learned excellent time management skills that have enabled you to be successful in high school, admission officers will respect that and understand that you are prepared for college. It is possible that disclosing a learning disability could negatively impact your application at some schools, but if that happens, is that really a school you want to attend?
There are some things you must disclose. Many college applications ask if you have been found responsible for a disciplinary violation in high school or convicted of a crime, and you are required to answer those questions. You will then need to write an explanation of what happened and what you learned from the experience. Depending on the severity of the offense, it may not sink your application. Admission officers are likely to be more forgiving of a school prank that resulted in a day-long suspension than they are of academic dishonesty.
Whenever you disclose something that could be damaging to your application, you want to report the information in a straightforward way, without trying to make excuses. Then you need to provide a positive way to view the information, by discussing how you have grown as a result of the experience, so that the reader comes away with an appreciation for your strengths as well as an understanding of your weakness.