Should I Give Law Schools Details About My Disorder?

by Judge Josh on October 1, 2014

Hello Judge Josh!

I am currently in the process of applying to law schools. I wanted to ask you what you thought about the extent of appropriate discussion for my personal statements.

Basically, in the middle of my freshman year I took a leave of absence due to an out of control eating disorder. I ended up transferring. Over the course of the next few years I experienced serious bouts of depression that led to an academic dismissal. I refused to give up and went into an in-patient treatment facility. I knew that I was going to get my degree no matter what.

Ultimately, I got back in and got very good grades (mostly A’s) until I graduated. I have to explain my dismissal to the schools that I am applying to. I am not at all shy about sharing my struggles, however I am not sure what degree of detail is appropriate. On one hand, I feel that my story is one of triumph that would be looked upon favorably. On the other hand, I don’t know if biases or fears regarding psychological disorders would adversely affect me in the admissions process. I would really appreciate any advice you might have. -Amanda

Hi Amanda – and congrats on overcoming a life-threatening disorder.  That’s as big an accomplishment as you’ll ever enjoy in life, so my hat is off to you.

With regard to discussing it, obviously it will likely come up due to the fact that you were dismissed from school at one point.  So it’s good to have a plan for how to deal with that.

My advice would be to have a summary in your head of the extent of what is necessary for them to know.  Not necessarily a “canned” response, but a brief description of what you went through, why it led to your dismissal, what you did to correct the problem, and what you have done (and continue to do) to ensure that it does not happen again.

Then, if they inquire further – tell them what they want to know (within reason, of course).  If they are asking follow-up questions, it either means they are concerned about admitting you – in which case the onus is on you to relieve them of that concern – or that they are genuinely fascinated and/or impressed by what you have overcome.  Either way – it’s good to give them that additional information so that you can turn a once negative life event into something that has made your stronger.

Good luck, Amanda!

What do you think – do you think Amanda should tell all, or stay tight-lipped about it?  Let us know!

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Denise October 1, 2014 at 9:15 pm

I would keep it brief and vague. You had a medical issue that has been resolved. The rest is not their business.

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Belinda October 1, 2014 at 11:21 pm

I think Amanda should tell them about the eating disorder but not the depression, and make sure to end on a positive note about how she triumphed over the disorder and improved her grades. The reason I say not to mention the depression is that there might be more stigma attached to that. People sympathize with depression but I think they wonder if something will happen (too much pressure, chemical imbalance, etc) and the person will become depressed again. They seem to assume that an eating disorder will not occur again once it’s been managed. Since depression can lead to an eating disorder, Amanda would just be mentioning the “disease” without mentioning the “cause”. But she should have an appropriate answer lined up if they ask what she thinks caused the eating disorder. I wouldn’t recommend pressure, stress OR depression as reasons.

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