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Articles / Applying to College / Applying to College With ADHD

Oct. 4, 2021

Applying to College With ADHD

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How Should a Student Newly-Diagnosed with ADHD Approach College Applications?

Should she retake the SAT? Tell colleges about her diagnosis. See what The Dean says.

My daughter, a rising senior, has just been diagnosed with ADHD. She has taken the SAT three times before this diagnosis, with scores of 1130, 1240, and 1280, with a superscore of 1330. Her weighted GPA through 3 years is 4.1 (took 4 honors and 2 AP classes junior year, getting a 4.6) but unweighted it is 3.5. So she has done pretty well for herself even with this undiagnosed issue, but we are left wondering what those numbers might look like had she been diagnosed and started with treatment and possibly an accommodation her freshman year.

Two questions:

1. Should she try to take the SAT (or ACT) one more time?

2. How should this new diagnosis be approached, if at all, on her college applications?

Thanks in advance.


The Dean's Answer:

I've answered questions about disclosing ADHD on college applications often before, but to answer your specific questions:

1). "The Dean" is not a fan of over-testing, so I would only suggest another stab at the SAT if your daughter really WANTS to do it because she's convinced that her medications will provide such an improvement in her focus that she is likely to score much higher. But if your daughter is against a retest – or even ambivalent about it – I would not recommend it. Depending on where she is applying, she will probably be able to send only her highest scores. But if she is applying to any colleges that require all scores, it will not work in her favor to present results from four sittings, if the final score isn't significantly higher. And if it IS, she will want to disclose the ADHD, which may or may not be the best strategy.

If she does decide to re-test and she does raise her score a lot (which I'm guessing won't happen), write back and we can discuss next steps when it comes to presenting this information to her colleges.

If your daughter does want to try yet another test, she might consider a shot at the ACT. This is a test that is very dependent on time. Students must work quickly and efficiently to do well. This can be tough for some kids but it also means that it's a test that lends itself to self-study at home because students can work on their speed at their own dining room tables by taking timed practice tests. The Science section scores in particular often respond to practice because the questions aren't typically very hard (even for non-scientists) but the time restrictions can be challenging. So if your daughter's ADHD medication seems to greatly increase her concentration, she may find that she does better on the ACT than on the SAT.

2. As you'll read when you follow the link above, she may not want to say anything about her new ADHD diagnosis to her colleges, particularly if the schools she is targeting commonly admit students with her current GPA and SAT's. With a superscored SAT of 1330 and an unweighted GPA of 3.5, she will presumably not be aiming at the highly competitive colleges (those that accept roughly 25% of their applicants or fewer). But she should still have lots of fine college options.

If she gets off to a very strong start in the fall and finishes her first semester with all A's (or almost), then this might warrant an ADHD disclosure which is something else we can talk about when or if the time comes.

Sure, it's conceivable that, had her ADHD been diagnosed when she was a freshman, she might now have a somewhat higher GPA and test scores, but since that didn't happen, she's got to proceed with her current numbers rather than wonder what might have been. Colleges rarely admit students on potential. In other words, if your daughter were to say, "I did very well in high school despite my undiagnosed ADHD, but now that I'm being treated for ADHD, I know I will do even better," the college folks are not going to care a lick about that. And, as I noted above, even with her current grades and scores, she will have many choices.

So I say wait and see what is happening with senior grades (and possibly with a new test score) before deciding whether or not to disclose. And if there isn't a head-spinning improvement, there's not a good reason to tell the colleges about the ADHD.

However, as your daughter makes college selections and you tour campuses, check out what sort of Disabilities Services and accommodations will be available to her if she needs them. You can do this by visiting Disabilities offices when you see campuses or email the college's Disabilities coordinator. Your conversations with them will not get back to the admission office so you can feel free to get your questions answered without revealing your daughter's diagnosis, if you choose not to do so.

A version of this article originally appeared in July 2017.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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