When do I disclose ADHD as a grad school applicant
November 2, 2012 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Disclosing ADHD during the grad school application process: where/when/how?

A decade ago, I ran into a brick wall which school. After a great high school career (nearly straight A's, lots of AP classes, etc), I went to college and completely melted down in the face of material that actually challenged me. I graduated, but only after a series of failing and withdrawing from classes, and left with a 2.6 GPA.

Fast forward to a decade later, I've realized that my struggles were mainly due to serious attention problems (ADHD inattentive type) and the depression that resulted from my failures. I sought treatment and after seeing the results, decided to go back to school. Because I was interested in the medical field at the time (and because I wanted to prove something to myself), I went back to undergrad and am about to receive a 2nd bachelors, I should be graduating summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA in the spring.

Obviously, the huge discrepancy in my transcripts needs to be explained as I apply to grad schools. I have no idea who I should explain it to. I've never registered with a student with a disability, because medication has made all the difference and I haven't needed accommodations. How/when/to whom do I explain the differences in my GPA? Should I talk about the struggle of overcoming ADHD in my personal statement (because believe me, it was a struggle)?
posted by anonymous to Education (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a legal or practical reason why you even have to have the first transcript sent to graduate schools?
posted by parrot_person at 6:16 PM on November 2, 2012

While there are people on Metafilter who could give a qualified answer, this is a good question to take to the disability services office at your university. There's even a case to be made that you shouldn't disclose, but I am not in a position to judge whether it's a good case.

Is there a legal or practical reason why you even have to have the first transcript sent to graduate schools?

They ask for transcripts from all schools attended. The small print probably has you sign a statement to the effect that you have listed all schools attended. They can likely pull transcripts via the National Student Clearinghouse, so yes, they can tell you've omitted an entire(!) degree.
posted by hoyland at 6:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's going to matter that the reason is ADHD - they will assume a disability or life disruption of some kind when they see the difference in GPA between the two transcripts. Don't explain what doesn't need explaining, the numbers say enough. Of course if you get asked directly in interviews, disclose, but until then, focus on what you did right the second time around (fwiw, I'm a grad student).
posted by slow graffiti at 6:42 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

It would be illegal to ask, just as in a job interview, which it more or less is. You have no ethical duty to disclose. It would be unlikely to help your case if you disclosed and it would be somewhat likely to hurt. Have a vague I-got-my-shit-together story ready and leave it at that.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 8:41 PM on November 2, 2012

The advice I have been given, is that if there is a gap in your resume/cv/whatever, it is better to explain it with a positive spin rather than leave it up to imagination. People looking at your application will wonder what you were doing with your time during your first undergrad stint if you don't have anything there--believe me, they notice gaps. This doesn't mean you have to go into intricate detail, but you should have a reasonable explanation (1-3 sentences) ready.

So I don't suggest that you act as if nothing happened. Frankly, if I was interviewing you, I would be impressed that you went back and proved your capabilities a second time around.
posted by nasayre at 8:58 PM on November 2, 2012

I think ten years says it all--it's really the only explanation needed when you have a 4.0 in a recent program. I've seen grad programs ask interesting candidates with fairly recent rough spots on their transcripts what happened, but (a) that's rare, (b) it is not going to happen over stuff ten years old, (c) if they did ask I'd write back that the answer is you just didn't prioritize the right stuff the first time and the second time has been a great experience rah rah you, and (d) your actual worst-case scenario here is shooting yourself in the foot by looking neurotic / over-anxious about something that doesn't really matter to anyone else.

Anyway, I have passed judgment on probably 1200 grad school applications, and I'm telling you do not mention this ADHD / mental health stuff to a graduate program. I repeat, do not. Just let the dates on the transcripts speak for themselves.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:01 PM on November 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

It is illegal for a post-secondary institution to ask an applicant if she or he has a disability or to ask questions that would tend to result in such a disclosure. I also agree with Monsieur Caution's worst case scenario. But I gotta tell you, your story is awe inspiring. So please feel free to tell it under other conditions. Good luck in grad school!
posted by Prayless at 9:21 PM on November 2, 2012

No one's going to care about what happened then (because it was 10 years ago, you were younger then), all they care about is what you can do right now (and you've demonstrated more than adequately your awesomeness). So, right now, you would look like a pretty good candidate.

If they ever ask what happened - and I'm sure they're not allowed to but I don't know that 100% - you talk about the now and not the past. Something along the lines of - you now have the level of dedication and the organization skills necessary to achieve to the standard that you've demonstrated in your most recent GPA.
posted by heyjude at 10:37 PM on November 2, 2012

Contrary to most of the advice here, I'd say talk about the difference in the two transcripts in your application letter, because it *will* be noticed. I read grad applications for my program (in the humanities, however) and if there's something like this it won't sink an application but it's best to explain it otherwise the grad committee wonders. For competitive programs there are always more applicants than places and funding, so you don't want to give them an excuse to reject you or put your application into the other side and that might be enough to do it. If you are getting letters to support an application you might have one of them mention it, simply by saying that you had issues in your first time at college but you've proven yourself a stellar student now and so forth. That's all that needs to be said, but it's better to say something than nothing.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:23 PM on November 2, 2012

If I were to address this, I would refer generally to "health issues" or something like that. I wouldn't specify mental health or ADHD. Health issues is truthful but vague, which is perfect.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:31 PM on November 2, 2012

If they ask, just say you took time off or something. The fact that you got a 4.0 the second time speaks for itself.
posted by twblalock at 11:43 PM on November 2, 2012

When I read applications for my program, I focus on the last results. I'd notice a gap and age, but conclude that the applicant has managed to get their stuff together..
I do appreciate when students are open about mental health or other issues after admission, though. Mostly so I know not to say insensitive stuff, and in some cases, I'd be willing to throw in a couple of extra office hours, if needed.
posted by mumimor at 3:14 AM on November 3, 2012

If you don't want the negative connotations, you could certainly explain it in terms of what behaviours changed. Because ultimately, you presumably prioritised better, you developed better study habits, you had a better sense of why you were there, you were more self-motivated, you had learned better discipline. Those things make you a *great* applicant and it doesn't matter to the people judging your application how you got to that point.

I used to work as a mentor for a university disability service and we cared about the students that didn't have the skills to work around their mental health issues. You wouldn't have been someone we worried about at all.
posted by kadia_a at 3:27 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second including a brief statement that says "I had some medical issues that impacted my grades during my first undergrad experience, which have since been resolved". Don't be any more specific than that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:15 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends on the field, but I would lean toward minimal explanation/disclosure. Also, in philosophy anyway, what they call the "personal statement" is NOT supposed to be about anything personal. It's about your research interests and maybe a bit of intellectual autobiography - eg "I found organic chemistry so interesting that I arranged to do summer research with Professor So-and-so. During that research, I found out about Problem X and have been absorbed in working on that problem". For a medical field, they might want to hear about experiences you've had working in medical contexts? Not sure. Try to find someone who knows what should go in this document - eg pre-med advisor at your school.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:17 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Echoing the notion that the discrepancy really doesn't need to be addressed. No one is interested in what you were doing 10 years ago if you are offering more recent information. (No one would use polls from January to determine the election if there were polls from the last few days.)
posted by Casuistry at 1:29 PM on November 3, 2012

During the application process you will be afforded an opportunity to explain.. discrepencies in your academic history.

Also, the fact that you're graduating now summa cum laude speaks well, as opposed to poorly, of your ability to succeed in graduate school. Maybe moreso than someone who's always had A/A+ with an occasional B. Shows that you recognized points of adversity and developed methods of overcoming them.

Odds are you will be able to do so with future adversity, whereas the hypothetical 'pretty good student' might never potentially have encountered adversity (not to say that they didn't learn to cope faster, either).
posted by porpoise at 1:36 PM on November 3, 2012

You'll also be afforded an opportunity to explain your academic history when applying for junior graduate student grants for salary support. It's in the same optional section for "maternity leave, medical leave, blahbah".

Spin it into a positive thing. Don't worry about it.

The personal statement section is for explaining why you're interested in, specifically, your proposed area of study. Then, how you plan to achieve this (and what skills you anticipate to have to acquire/hone), and why the place you're applying to is the best place to do it. Then something about future plans (pursue grant based research at a R1 institution, or some bs like that).

This is a very important section.

Don't talk about adversity there, stick it in the optional section specifically for explaining adversity.
posted by porpoise at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2012

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