Should I Mention My Deafness in My College Applications?

Question: I am deaf and hear with a cochlear implant. I don’t need much in the way of accommodations … just the teacher to wear a mic. I have the grades and test scores to get into a highly selective college. Should I disclose the physical disability? Some people have said yes because it shows overcoming a hurdle and diversity; others say schools will shy away because they worry it will cost them money to accommodate. Any advice on how to handle this on the apps?

Absolutely do disclose … no gray area here, in my opinion. Not only are those “hurdle” and “diversity” factors true, but your cochlear implant is an important part of who you are … albeit, probably not the most important part. In fact, I recommend that you write a supplementary essay or letter that explains your situation to colleges but make your primary essay about something unrelated. This way, you’ll be sending a message to admission committees that proclaims, “My disability has been a formative part of my life, but it doesn’t define me.” Of course, if you’ve already written your main essay about your implant or about any deaf-culture issues (e.g., the pro-implant vs. anti-implant controversy), that’s fine, too. My advice certainly is just that …. a suggestion, not an imperative.

Sometimes I do recommend that students withhold certain information about disabilities, if these disabilities aren’t reflected in fluctuating grades and frequent absences and if, by withholding them, the student won’t be deprived of necessary services or might be endangering other members of the community. However, in your case, I think that you should forge ahead and proudly tell your target colleges what you’ve overcome in order to achieve the success you’ve had.