Mental health & learning considerations at US Unis

Posted on 23rd November 2022

Mental health & special learning considerations at US universities

It’s important that the education system appreciates all the different ways that our brains can work and learn, and that students with mental health and special learning considerations (like ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger’s, and autism) are not only supported, but also appreciated and celebrated for the diversity of thought they can bring to a university community.

This blog’s focus is on universities that support mental health and special learning considerations: it will look at what support colleges can offer, and what you should look out for when researching colleges if these issues are relevant to you.

The college application process

If you have mental health or special learning considerations, this is personal information so it can understandably feel intimidating to mention it in your college application or essays. Or you may feel this information is private. You also might not be used to disclosing your considerations to strangers, or not want to feel defined by or treated differently because of your learning differences. All of these positions are valid.

However, we would recommend that you do mention these considerations in your application. They are an important part of your academic profile without which it is difficult for admissions officers to see the full picture of who you are and how you learn. We would, however, recommend that you focus on the positive in your learning differences: focus less on the struggle, and more on the positives of what they’ve taught you and how you’ve grown as a student. Remember that US colleges aren’t just interested in your grades: they are genuinely interested in everything that makes you who you are!

Also, importantly, universities won’t hold against you any health or learning considerations, as that would be discriminatory and forbidden by law. However, admissions officers will use this information to assess fit. For example, if you have agoraphobia and anxiety and have attended boarding school in a small village, an admissions officer at a large urban university like NYU might feel concerned about how you would cope with the environment there. But this is a positive: it will help you end up in a good-fit college!

If you feel comfortable, writing about mental health and learning considerations in your Common Application or supplemental essays can be a good way to give yourself the control to shape your story when sharing them. We would also recommend that you mention any mental health and special learning considerations you have in the Additional Information section of the Common Application.

Mental health support

Regardless of whether you have a mental health condition, good mental health and well-being is a key ingredient to a positive university experience! This useful link ranks colleges based on ‘innovative mental wellness practices, accessibility to the widest range of students, evidence of programme effectiveness and aggregated mentions on source articles.’ One highlighted well-being programme that could be helpful for all students is UC Santa Barbara’s Happiness Challenge and Wellness Challenge. The University of Virginia offers the WahooWell programme, which provides students with a wellness survey, then links them with a facilitator who helps them connect and discuss any issues they are having. This programme differentiates itself from traditional counselling, and is a great access point for students who might otherwise be unsure that engaging in and committing to more formal counselling is right for them.

Other colleges provide more targeted help. University of Pittsburgh offers group and individual therapies (including support for addiction), as well as mental health resources, peer educators and counsellors. University of Florida provides a robust programme of counselling, including virtual options, therapy groups, and a strong follow-up system. Colby College offers alcohol and substance abuse counselling, nutrition counselling, psychiatric assessment, and medical and women’s health services.

Special learning considerations

If you have a special learning consideration, you have probably worked with your school to access support like extra time or laptop use, and you may be able to access similar assistance at university. Different colleges will offer varied forms of support ranging from interpreters, note-takers, audio versions of textbooks, accommodations to residence and dining halls, help with registration, a lighter course load, exemptions to academic policies (like course drops after the deadline), extra time on exams, extensions on assignments, and special student status for chronic illness. This article from highlights some of the forms of support you may be able to access and the difference between accommodations available at high school and college.

To receive learning support at university, you should make sure that the colleges on your list offer the support you need, and provide them with the documentation they require to arrange it.

Middlebury College has an excellent Disability Resource Centre that provides educational support. UNC Chapel Hill is also a great option for students with special learning considerations. They can provide academic coach specialists and host the annual Burnett Seminar, which features a keynote speaker discussing learning differences; you can view information about the seminar from October 2022 here.

Some students on the spectrum benefit from autism-specific services, so that may be something for them consider when choosing colleges. This list features autism-friendly colleges, with programmes to help autistic students adjust to and thrive in the college setting.

When choosing colleges, if you have a mental health or special learning consideration, it can be helpful to incorporate support services into your college search. Any university you attend will benefit from a neurodiverse student body, and with some forward planning and research you can ensure that you’ll be in an academic environment that will appreciate and foster the way you think and learn. If you’d like further advice on this topic, you can book a free call with a founder, or email us on

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