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Articles / Applying to College / Should I Mention My Deafness in My College Applications?

Oct. 27, 2008

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.

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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