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University admission and mental illness

  1. Jul 6, 2011 #1
    I was wondering if Universities discriminate against people who suffer from one or several mental illnesses? What about MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, Caltech, etc etc ?

    I ask this because I will be soon applying to University in about 1.5 year and sometimes they ask for any health issue (or maybe they don't ask?). I have Bipolar Disorder, and what I'm afraid of is that they will base their decision on statistics such as high suicide rates amongst those with Bipolar Disorder.

    For instance: "At least 25% to 50% of patients with bipolar disorder also attempt suicide at least once..." (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10826661)
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  3. Jul 7, 2011 #2
    First off, that would be discrimination and if caught doing that, the college would soon be closed down and a bunch of lawyers would be extremely wealthy.

    Second off, just no.
  4. Jul 7, 2011 #3
    I assume that it is not legal for them to discriminate unless there is some reason to believe that they will not be capable of functioning as a student. Even then they could get in some trouble.

    You might like to know that there have been a number of Uni students posting here that have aspergers and rather obvious issues with socialization. I don't think being bipolar is likely to effect your chances.
  5. Jul 7, 2011 #4
    I think you could find out from National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) what a college is allowed to ask.
  6. Jul 7, 2011 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    It took me about 3 minutes to download the application from MIT and the Common College Application (Princeton, Caltech and many others). None of them ask "do you have a mental illness". If they don't know, how can it influence any decision?
  7. Jul 7, 2011 #6


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    When applying to universities here in the UK I've been asked questions along the lines of "do you have any illnesses that you wish to make known to us (please note you are not obliged to answer this question)". If they don't ask then telling them is entirely down to your discretion
  8. Jul 7, 2011 #7
    Well the thing is, even if they don't explicitly ask, I'm counting writing an essay (part of the application) which probably will refer to it. I intend to showcase my struggle with Bipolar Disorder, mentioning how it affected me on an academic scale and personal. The point is to display the positive outcomes and what I've achieved, the perspectives I've gained and etc etc.

    Or is that a bad idea for an essay topic ? This has been a huge part of my life, so I can't imagine skipping it...
  9. Jul 7, 2011 #8
    What if you specifically reference your illness in your essay, and demonstrate your academic/personal growth.

    I'm thinking of discussing about it, because I believe this will show a bigger picture to the admission committee. Like add a different or extra perspective.
  10. Jul 8, 2011 #9
    Honestly, as someone who has studied psychology a bit, I have a hard time seeing any positive that comes from having a mental illness.

    Usually it just harms, never helps. I say this because I don't know how strong your essay will be. I don't know how much you can turn being bipolar into a positive thing.

    I hate those types of essays though. I hate trying to make something bad into something good. It's so convoluted, but it DOES get you places if you can do it well...
  11. Jul 8, 2011 #10


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    That is exactly the reason why it is a dumb idea for a topic. Do you really want to tell the admissions people that the most important thing in your past life was mental illness?

    The message you should to be giving them is why the most important thing in your future life is getting a degree, not giving them reasons to doubt whether you can handle being a successful student.

    Save the contents of the essay till you become famous enough to write your autobiography. Then you can tell the story in as much detail as you like.
  12. Jul 8, 2011 #11

    An essay can justify an abnormal grades curve. For instance, if you are strong in grade 9, but fell apart in grade 10 and 11, you can then reason with the admission committee. This is assuming a positive prognosis, ie: the individual expected to achieve excellent grades post grade 11.

    And it's not just about the grades, it's also about other worthwhile extracurriular activities. For example: summer internships at the local university, research (not just a juvenile research work but Intel ISEF level), etc.

    If your essays strongly outline what you've achieved and done so far despite the issues faced, then will it not work in your advantage?
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