Is it bad to mention mental health challenges on college apps?

By Maxine Seya

“Is it bad to mention mental health challenges on college apps?”

– Arianna, a high school junior

Liz Cheron, the dean of admissions at Northeastern University, touched on this topic in a December 2020 Early Decision Updates presentation. She said that when and if mental health needs are mentioned on the app, that admissions officers will dig deeper.

If you choose to mention a fight with depression, for example, the admissions office will contact the student affairs office to see if your condition is normal compared to the student body at Northeastern.

If student affairs says that your condition occurs commonly enough, the admissions office will know that the university has the resources to support you when you need it.

This could mean having enough counselors or therapists specializing in your condition, having a standard protocol to provide accommodations for exams or housing, having doctors on-call in the community who can prescribe medication, etc. Whatever it takes to ensure you can fully experience what the campus offers.

But if your condition or its intensity are “outliers” compared to the campus population, admissions will have to take an extra step to make sure the university has the resources to support you.

This might look like asking the counseling center to hire an ADHD specialist, consulting external nutritionists who’ll help design meal plans for those with eating disorders, or simply reallocating funds to add another staff member in the students with disabilities department.

It’s a lot of work and effort for the college.

In an environment where fifteen applicants are fighting for one spot, admissions officers might not feel like you are a “fit” if your situation requires resources beyond what the school already offers.

From my conversations with admissions officers, “fit” is something they feel out. It’s not a checklist of traits. An application reader might feel like the school lacks the resources to support you and simply deem it as a cultural mismatch between you and the school. Or they simply might not have enough time or desire to create an extra support program specifically for students like you.

Liz reminded us that you are never obligated to share your mental health condition, which seemed like an invitation to leave it out altogether and simplify the lives of your app readers.

This doesn’t mean you must erase all evidence of your fight to overcome anxiety. Not all admissions officers view mental health in the same way.

Pat McNally, a senior assistant admissions director at Boston University, said in the same presentation that

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.