Last week’s post discussed the readmission process after a medical leave of absence due to mental illness. In the comments, DDF wrote this:

If you were Sandstrom, would you re-admit a student at (medium? high?) risk of suicide?

That brings an equally interesting, yet somehow wholly different question: should Williams admit such a student in the first place?

It’s different, of course, because it’s an admissions committee making the decision vs a smaller, less formal, and less dedicated (it’s not their only job) committee that decides readmission. Last week, we had a whole discussion about what’s in the best interest of the student, and what’s in the best interest of the school, when it comes to readmitting students who have struggled with mental illness. That all comes with the prerequisite, though, that the student told the college about their mental illness (in the form of their application for a medical/psychological leave of absence) and is now relying on the college to make a decision about their readiness to return to Williams.

To get admitted in the first place, however, they had to go through no such process. You don’t have to disclose that you have any sort of disability on your college application (I’m pretty sure that’d be a violation of the ADA). You can choose to, of course, if you want to write an essay about it.

My guess is that students with very impactful physical disabilities or diseases will often choose to do this; if their disability has had a large impact on their lives, the challenges they’ve had to overcome, and the way they see the world, then that is, quite rightly, something they can and should highlight in an essay to set them apart to an admissions committee. The fact that the student is submitting the application means that they believe they will be able to handle college life with their disability; if the admissions committee determines this is the case academically, they will admit the student and will work to provide any accommodations needed for the student’s success.

Mental illnesses theoretically work similarly, in the sense that they don’t have to be disclosed under the ADA, and that once the student is admitted they can get the accommodations they need to succeed.

However, disclosing a mental illness in a college admissions essay is probably a lot rarer–and a lot less “successful,” in the sense that it probably gives college admissions committees more reason to doubt the student’s ability to thrive than convinces them of the student’s tenacity and unique perspective. Should this be the case? If a student comes into the college with a mental illness, should their readiness for college be inherently doubted?

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