To Disclose or Not to Disclose…That is the Question by Denise Goegan

Denise Goegan

Who would have thought that the most difficult part of the graduate school application process would be to decide whether to disclose my learning disability or not. From my stand point at the start of the semester I thought it would have been getting good grades or having the right people write my letters of reference… but that turned out the be the easy part.

I have spent hours… days… literally weeks… thinking about what I should do. Should I tell the people in charge of admittance or not? If I tell them, what all should I include? When should I tell them? It’s been the hardest decision to make in the application process and everyone I asked seemed to have a different opinion.

When I first started thinking of grad schools and applying, the thought of not disclosing didn’t really even enter my mind. Of course I was going to disclose; I was a person with a learning disability and I have never tried to hide that fact. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish and thought that would go a long way in the application process. Furthermore, I was applying to programs in educational psychology and school psychology, and I thought that personal experience would make me a superior candidate. Having lived the experience of going through the school system as a special needs student and knowing the assessment process, accommodations and strategies first hand… wouldn’t that be an asset?

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with an advisor who suggested that I not disclose, explaining that this information might be used against me in the selection process that I began to question this idea. While that is illegal, there could be subtle or unintentional biases. If the individuals in charge of admittance thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the program workload because of my LD, they might not accept my application. It was therefore suggested that I shouldn’t disclose my LD until I had to.

Is it wise to disclose your LD when applying to university or college?

I realize that some people don’t understand LD, but I was hoping that people working in these two disciplines would be informed and understanding of exactly what having a learning disability meant and what people with LD were really capable of. We are unique individuals with many gifts and talents, and shouldn’t these be considered first and foremost? This advisor was not so optimistic.

I was confused…why should my learning disability make a difference? I had the grades, and had carefully selected professors and associated professionals for letters of reference. Would the fact that I have LD really make a difference? Could that be the deciding factor in their decision?

I was faced with this question by my advisor… what would happen if I was equally qualified as someone else who didn’t have LD. Would they select the other applicant with no other distinguishing information because he or she did not have LD, and therefore the school would not have to worry about accommodations and supports for that student?

Thinking of this left me perplexed. I never thought that having a learning disability would be such an issue in this application process. Perhaps I was naïve… there were always people who weren’t going to understand what LD was, and possibility discriminate against me because of it… but I thought in graduate school it would be different. The programs I was applying for were related to LD and if I was able to be highly successful in my undergraduate program, would they truly believe that graduate school would be so different?

I began to think that disclosing was not the best idea, especially because then I could let my high academic marks and everything else speak for themselves. But I still felt a little unsure… it almost felt like I was lying if I didn’t disclose. I was supposed to present who I was in the letter of intent and why I wanted to be in the program. Without being able to say, “I want to be enrolled in this program so that I can help others with learning disabilities reach their full potential,” it didn’t feel quite right.

Weeks later I had a meeting with a colleague and asked this individual what he thought. After much discussion, there didn’t seem to be a right answer, but it was suggested that disclosing was the best approach for a number of reasons. First, by disclosing I was able to present myself to the universities the way I wanted to. I could talk about what I have experienced and how that has inspired me to help others. Second, was the idea that if they are going to discriminate against me because of my LD… wouldn’t I want to know that before I accepted an offer to attend that institution? If they are going to discriminate against me in the application process, would they really be that accommodating during my studies? And lastly, it has taken me seven years to complete my undergrad degree. Without disclosing, how was that going to be perceived by the institution? How was I going to explain that without divulging the true reason for my reduced course load?

After this point, I asked everyone I seemed to talk to about graduate studies this question: “Should I disclose or not…” and no one was able to give me a straight yes or no answer. It was so frustrating! What was I going to do? The days were ticked away… and I had to make a decision. These were my two options:

1. Disclose

Allows me to be completely honest and open with the universities I am applying to. May not get into the program if discriminated against because of disclosing.
Screening out universities that may not be accommodating. People may not understand what LD truly means.

2. Don’t Disclose

My grades and letters sent to the university stand alone Not presenting completely who I am and why I’m applying
Don’t have to worry about being discriminated against in the acceptance process because of my LD Having to explain why it took seven years to complete my undergrad becomes tricky
Still have the ability to access accommodations after admittance Might leave some holes in my application that I don’t address, or can’t explain


So what do I do? What would you do?

Denise Goegan is a regular contributor to LDExperience. She is a successful university student, maintaining a stellar GPA, who in in an Honours Psychology Program. With her mother, she also speaks at conferences and other venues on advocacy for people with learning disabilities.

© LDExperience and Denise Goegan. If citing this article, please do so as, “To Disclose or Not to Disclose…That is the Question” by Denise Goegan,, December 20, 2010.