How To Get Ahead in College

Get yourself a diagnosis to advantage your college experience

Posted Mar 12, 2019

One of the most interesting aspects of the college admissions scandal involving actresses Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and their children, charging a college consultant with arranging for someone to take children’s SATs or falsifying their answers, and claiming the kids played sports that they didn’t, was the consultant’s recommendation that they be diagnosed with ADHD so that they could have extra time to take the tests.

But is that illegal?

One reason I ask is that when I entered law school at age 48, I noticed that some students were ushered into a separate, quiet room for tests, allowed to use a computer and to have added time—because, I was told, they had a learning disability. “But,” I objected, “Lauren has a better GPA than I have. How can she have a learning disability and I don’t?”

My law school partner asked me, “Do you want to request such a diagnosis?”

”No,” I said, “I wouldn’t like to be viewed as handicapped.”

Please excuse my stupid response. This was years ago. I’m smarter than that now.

Sometime later, I was dating a woman whose son was diagnosed with ADHD for which he was taking Concerta, a drug similar in its chemical structure to meth (as Carl Hart points out). He was preparing for college. I offered to help him with some sample quantitative SAT prep questions. But I quickly saw that this 17-year-old was well beyond my competence level.

I know—I was confusing academic performance and learning disabilities.  (But aren’t the two inversely related? I’m still confused.)

Oh, I have three children. My oldest, a boy, was very fidgety. My wife and I were advised that he had ADHD, for which he should be labeled and treated. We refused. 

I can honestly say that we never considered the advantages of such a diagnosis, a la Loughlin’s and Huffman’s consultant. Did we fail our son? He ended up going to Penn anyway and is now a senior software engineer in a prominent e-commerce firm. So I feel he didn’t suffer from our oversight.

For it would seem that the allegedly felonious consultant was right. Being diagnosed with a learning disability is advantageous at the very basic level of taking exams under facilitative conditions. Who wouldn’t want that advantage?

I see now that I was making foolish decisions rejecting such a diagnosis for me and my son.