Should Students Disclose Depression/Anxiety on College Applications?


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Between the ages of 13 and 18, about 20 percent of American adolescents will deal with some form of mental illness. Under this umbrella falls anything from minor depression or anxiety all the way to potentially more serious conditions like pediatric schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. For many, dealing with a mental health condition will hurt their high school career in some way, potentially impacting areas such as academic performance, school attendance, teacher relationships, and extracurricular involvement.

Given the prevalence of mental illness among teenagers, a significant number of high school seniors are faced with a difficult choice each year — do I reveal my condition on my college application?

There is no blanket answer that will guide every applicant. Ultimately, the decision to reveal your condition is an entirely personal one. However, if you do choose to discuss your condition with prospective colleges in an essay and/or interview, we recommend that you consider framing your experience in one of the following ways:

The overcoming Obstacles Angle

Overcoming challenges and citing evidence of personal growth can be a winning story arc. If a bout of depression during your sophomore year contributed toward failing grades but you received treatment and rebounded academically the following year, then revealing that journey may be extremely helpful to your admissions chances. Knowing that you faced a significant challenge in your life and successfully emerged from it speaks volumes about your resilience, maturity, and grit, traits that are greatly valued by admissions officers.

Weakness as strength

Another approach is highlighting the strength that you draw from what others call an “illness.” An associate of Abraham Lincoln said of our 16th president that the “melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” Yet, many historians feel that Lincoln’s lifelong depression sparked a great deal of his legendary wisdom, insight and brilliant strategic thinking. Lincoln was hardly alone; many of the greatest, most creative minds throughout history were, at least in part, driven by mental conditions. Darwin, Michelangelo, and Einstein were all likely sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If we were to list all of all the great writers, artists, comedians, actors, and directors who were influenced by depression and anxiety, this blog post would be longer than the 1017-page novel, "Bleak House," penned by Charles Dickens, who was himself a lifelong victim of severe depression.

The semantic shift

Cautious applicants might consider simply substituting the term “medical condition” for “mental illness.” After all, depression, anxiety and the like are treatable medical conditions in the same vein as mono, kidney surgery or any other condition that might disrupt one’s educational experience. Simply stating that you were afflicted by a “serious medical condition” that caused a temporary academic decline and led to you quitting the school newspaper and the baseball team will suffice.

The case against revealing

It’s hard to predict how a given admissions officer will react to a disclosure of a mental condition. After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, colleges became highly attuned to the mental health status of applicants. Unfortunately, admissions officers less enlightened on the subject may, even subconsciously, attach a stigma to any mention of a mental condition, lumping your treated depression with more gravely serious and untreated disorders. The public’s perceptions and understanding of mental health has improved in the past decade, but misinformation persists, even among highly educated college officials.

College Transitions bottom line: If you are going to discuss your depression, anxiety, or other mental condition in your application, do so in a strategic manner for the purpose of illuminating otherwise unexplained inconsistencies in your academic record. A well-conceived and well-delivered narrative about your struggles with mental illness can be beneficial to your admissions chances; a poorly crafted disclosure may have the opposite effect.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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December 2017

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Barriskill Dance Theatre School present its annual production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Reynolds Theater, Duke University
125 Science Dr.
Durham, NC  27708
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Enjoy a family Chanukah concert from local band, Mishpacha (Hebrew for “family”). Mishpacha’s music is influenced by a variety of musical genres including folk,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
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Join Burning Coal Theatre Company as it presents a stage production based on the children's novel by JM Barrie. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $25/adult, $15/student

Where:
Burning Coal Theatre
224 Polk St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 919-834-4001
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Learn about winter. Sip pine needle tea, and observe the ice and snow through hands-on science experiments. All ages with adult. Registration required. 

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cary Ballet students presents a condensed version of the holiday story for younger audiences. Join Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends on a...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
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Build a LEGO menorah, discover chocolate making and enjoy games from 3-4:45 p.m. at the Apex Community Center. At 5 p.m., a menorah lighting and fire show take place at 220 N. Salem Street in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Apex
, NC


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Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


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Enjoy a 3.5-hour bus tour in the heart of downtown Raleigh during the holiday season. Pullen Park Holiday Express tickets included. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $55/adult, $39/child

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
, NC  27601


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The Triangle Youth String Orchestra performs its annual holiday concert. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15/adult, $5/child

Where:
Athens Drive High School Auditorium
1420 Athens Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Cary Ballet students presents the holiday story of Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends. The Raleigh Boychoir's Resident...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
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Join in celebration of Hanukkah with a group menorah lighting (bring your menorahs from home), fun crafts for the kids, latkes, jelly doughnuts and more. This fundraising event is open to the...

Cost: $10 children 3-18, $12 adults. At the door: $12 children 3-18, $15 adults

Where:
Beth Meyer Synagogue Social Hall
504 Newton Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Beth Meyer Preschool
Contact Name: Michelle Panek
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Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
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Website »

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Create a snow globe to take home. All ages with adult. Registration not required. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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See 10 unique play homes built by Terramor, with $10 raffle tickets available per play home benefitting Duke Children’s Hospital and the YMCA of the Triangle. The Play Homes include a fire...

Cost: $10.00/raffle ticket

Where:
Terramor Homes Corporate Office
7208 Falls of Neuse Road, #201
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Terramor Homes
Telephone: 919-810-2504
Contact Name: Rebecca Newsome
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Family members join teams to shoot foul shots for a chance to win a holiday ham. See website for age divisions and times. No registration necessary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Center
73 Hunter St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Telephone: 919-249-3402
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Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

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Explore toys that children enjoy all over the world. Make a toy to take home and read a story. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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See a family-friendly movie on a big screen. Take snacks and a blanket. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Children's Book Buyer Sarah reads stories to babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
McIntyre's Books at Fearrington Village
2000 Fearrington Village Center
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
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Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
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Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids enjoy crafting and nature while parents enjoy holiday shopping. Take a lunch and water bottle. Ages 6-10. Meet at the park office. Registration required online. 

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St.Clair
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Learn what the Ingalls family did to survive one especially long winter and how they celebrated Christmas. Taste an old-fashioned peppermint candy stick and take home a homemade holiday craft. Wear...

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

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The Raleigh Boychoir presents its annual holiday concert. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
228 W. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

With over 25 years of singing experience, Cinnamon Ruth Leggett has engaged audiences in off-Broadway performances. Celebrate the season with a special first time musical appearance from her...

Cost: Free

Where:
Millbrook United Methodist Church
1712 E. Millbrook Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: CRLStudios
Telephone: 919-889-9332
Contact Name: Roberta Greene
Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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