The college application process may provide multiple challenges for those who struggle with mental health. This is harder because many universities now ask applicants if they have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness or treated for one.
This information can then be used to treat applicants unfairly or steer them toward programs that aren’t as desirable as other future career options. But this flies in the face of special laws designed to protect potential students from such discrimination.
The fact that the application process may ask for this information and that testing may be required can cause stress, making it hard to do well on tests and worsening existing health problems.
The student may have a lower chance of getting into the college of their choice if they don’t do well on standardized tests and meet other requirements. Rejection is never easy for anyone to handle, but in the face of mental health issues, it can prove to be devastating. One answer to potential future rejection lies in multiple applications to colleges.
Many students apply to multiple colleges as their “fall-back” choices if their first choice doesn’t accept them or if they’re placed on a waitlist, which means passing up other college acceptances. But this requires money to afford all the application fees.
Students with mental health problems can face different kinds of bias when they apply to college. Colleges and universities can help in this area by getting rid of the requirement that applicants tell them about any mental health problems they may have had, making it easier for accepted students to get help and resources for mental health, giving students with mental health problems more options for accommodations, and coming up with and putting into place plans to reduce stigma at the institution level.
Schools must re-evaluate their programs if they don’t have the resources to properly care for and help admitted students with mental health problems. Today, there is no legal reason to fail to assist these students. There could be a drop in academic performance, a rise in the number of students who drop out, and other problems.
What Can Colleges Do to Help?
Institutions do have ways to assist these students. They can help students prepare for college by giving them resources and information.
Students may have access to counseling services, classes on dealing with stress, and other support programs to help them respond to the pressures and stresses of the application process and being a college student. It does take a bit of change in many ways.
When a student goes to college, they may have better access to mental health care and counseling. In terms of their mental health, therapy and peer support groups are important for many college students to adjust well.
Many adjustments can be made to improve a student’s performance on standardized exams, such as longer testing times, different testing environments, or even different means of testing. One student I had in a class required that all his tests be recorded, and he also responded to them on a digital recorder.
Plan and implement strategies to reduce prejudice against students with mental health issues. Putting in place procedures for dealing with complaints of discrimination and teaching staff how to help students with mental health problems may be steps that need to be taken in this direction.
An example of a potential lack of sufficient mental health care for one university student resulted in her setting herself on fire in her dorm room and dying. Her parents sued the university for a lack of acting in loco parentis.
Providing tools and support for applicants’ mental health during the college application process can help alleviate stress and pressure. As a result, the student’s grades may improve, making it easier to get into the school of their choice. Parents play an important role in alleviating this stress. But there is also legal help for them.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that postsecondary schools must make “reasonable accommodations” for students with disabilities, especially those related to mental health.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also makes it illegal to treat students with disabilities differently. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law says that schools must adjust for students with special needs.
However, schools only have to look at student requests for accommodations and make them if they are reasonable or would place an undue burden on the school. So, the results for the student are questionable if the school can show proof of an unfair burden.
In addition to ADA and Section 504, The FERPA law says students can keep their educational records private. The law also indicates how educational institutions can store and share these records.
A disability attorney may also help outline the actions that can be taken for any student with a mental health issue applying to a college. They will be able to tell them their rights and help them get any accommodations they need.
There are resources to help screen colleges for their ADA admissions and assistance policies. In addition to housing, potential students should consider test accommodations including alternative test formats and locations and more time to take tests. Students can also request extra time to complete coursework and fulfill graduation requirements. Again, if a student’s believes their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint.
When a student files a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), they investigate it. If the student is correct in their allegation, the court may order the school to change its policies and procedures to stop discrimination from happening again and make the correct accommodations.
The application process is stressful, but if a student or parent thinks they are being treated unfairly for whatever reason, there are ways to deal with this and things they can do. There is hope.