NCLD intern Adam Ninyo is almost a high school graduate—and has survived the college application process. Adam, who has previously written LD Insights posts about his dysgraphia and LD in the movies, will be attending Vassar College this fall. In this post, he shares his perspective as a student with LD who has experienced the long and often arduous road of competitive college admissions and offers advice for other young people preparing to embark on the journey.
“Am I good enough?” That question plagues so many students with learning disabilities (LD) and other struggles with learning and behavior. That’s also a question that plagues the innumerable students who apply to highly selective colleges, where the vast majority of qualified applicants will be turned away. Being a student with LD and applying to such selective institutions can be even more stressful.
Growing up with Asperger’s and dysgraphia meant that I encountered rejection in school early on. I was placed in a special education environment and understood that I was “different” from other kids. When I was in middle school, it was decided that I should apply to “mainstream” schools instead of remaining at my current school for students with LD. Due to the fact that I was not a very—for lack of a better term—good student during middle school, I didn’t get into the high schools that I wanted to get into. So I opted to stay at my current school.
Those rejections hurt, but also helped me by giving me a reality check that propelled me to become a better student. The difference between the high school application process and the college application process is that I know why I was rejected from some high schools—I screwed up during middle school. Recently, I received some great offers from colleges, but I was rejected from other colleges. Now I'm looking at both rejections and acceptances that I don’t fully understand the reasons behind. To answer the question that I began this piece with: if you are applying to colleges, the likelihood is yes, you are good enough…even if you don’t get in.
Also, a word about LD and admissions: in my experience, it didn’t really swing decisions one way or another. I probably still would’ve gotten rejected from some of my “reaches” where I mentioned it and admitted to my “safeties” where I mentioned it as well. Honestly, despite what a recent controversial op-ed in the Wall Street Journal says, you should be yourself. If you feel that writing about your LD will show strength and perseverance rather than weakness, go for it. If a college rejects you, forget them. Why worry about a school that doesn’t want you when you have many equally great options? Take it with a grain of salt and remember, as much as your essays may allow colleges to get a glimpse of who you are, it’s only a 500-words-or-less glimpse.
Lastly, I’d like to say that if you can overcome LD and be competitive for admission at top colleges, you can easily succeed at any college, and more importantly, in life.
As complex as this process is, remember that to get into your top college (or any college for that matter) you have to be ready to participate in the admissions process. Apply. You've done great work throughout high school, now it’s time to share it. What’s the worst that colleges can do? Say “no” and give you yet another opportunity to defy expectations. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that much where you go, but what you do when you’re there. This process might be stressful, but it invariably ends with you going somewhere wonderful.