College students with ADHD face many challenges as they transition to college. They face more distraction, less external structure, more responsibilities, and new friends and teachers.
Students in college must rely upon their own skills, support, and resources to succeed. Deliberate and proactive steps prepare the student and family as they transition to a college education.
The transition from high school to college is a critical and sensitive stage in life for adults with ADHD.
It’s the Executive Functions
Young adults with ADHD struggle with the transition from high school to college. This is not due to lower intelligence or a lack of knowledge, but rather to differences in the ADHD brain that affect executive functions and their ability to act on what they know.
Executive functions are responsible for organizing, prioritizing, activating, focusing, sustaining effort and alertness, managing frustrations and controlling emotions, using working memory (short-term memory and recall), controlling impulsivity and hyperactivity, and monitoring context.
New or returning college student with ADHD? Get practical strategies to help you thrive and connect with people who understand you and ADHD!
New or returning college student with ADHD? Get practical strategies to help you thrive and connect with people who understand you and ADHD!Learn More
School Success Comes from a Strong Scaffolding
Children with ADHD succeed in grade school because a strong “scaffolding” supports their ability to do what they know. The education system plans their course of studies. The teacher works with the child to help them discover how they learn best. The teacher also works with the family to ensure support extends beyond the school.
Family members remind the child with ADHD about their homework. Parents help their children organize their time. This scaffolding is successful, and so these children follow the traditional path to success.
They head off to college, but in college, the scaffolding that helped ensure success in high school disappears. When the scaffolding disappears, success turns to failure.
College students with ADHD face many challenges in the new college community. They face more distraction, less external structure, more responsibilities, and new friends and teachers.
While pre-college educational systems allocate resources, both formal and informal, to provide well-tailored educational services, students in college have to rely upon their own skills, support, and resources to a much greater degree.
Deliberate and proactive steps must be taken to prepare the student and family as they transition to a college education.
What Kind of ADHD Accommodations Can You Ask For at College?
Asking for some of these ADHD accommodations from your college can help you succeed as a student:
- Extended time on tests and assignments, testing over several sessions
- Testing in a separate and quiet place
- Permission to record lectures
- Audio textbooks
- Assistance taking class notes or reading (note-taking service, reading group)
- Written instructions from professors
- Priority registration with a professional in the disability services office
- The possibility of class substitution within the curriculum or reduced course load
What Students with ADHD Can Provide for Themselves
Students with ADHD can set themselves up for a great college experience when they advocate for themselves and get the support they need. Here are a few important ways they can do so:
Make Good Choices
- Choose a college with reasonable accommodations and support groups for students with ADHD
- Ensure the college you decide on has a large number of ADHD-LD specialists
- Choose a college with many registered ADHD students
- Disclose your ADHD diagnosis at the earliest possible opportunity to trusted student services staff and advisors
- Request appropriate accommodations, including those that the school may not readily offer
Contact Your Support Team
- School’s office of disability: Get familiar with its resources
- Health officials: Get documentation that proves your ADHD status and proof that ADHD affects your academic performance
- Writing center: Fully utilize your school’s writing center for help with written assignments
- Professors: Make use of office hours to meet your professors and set up appointments to clarify assignments.
- ADDA has a plenty of resources about studying with ADHD
- Access support from tutors, whether on campus or online
- Find a healthy study environment early on, free of distractions
- Time management resources, including a schedule that includes time for studying, socializing, and exercising
- Find a study buddy or study group. Sign up for classes with friends, or make friends in the classes you have, to support each other in and out of class
- Consider an academic coach (through the college counseling office or privately) that will check in with you throughout the week to ensure success
Improve Your Skills and Habits to Manage ADHD in College
- Self-advocacy skills to build self-esteem and avoid frustrations
- Socializing time and social skills
- Perspective on your future goals and carrier
- Perseverance and procrastination
- Sleep habits to be able to get up early in the morning to catch your classes
- Self-expectations: ADHD is with you for life, so you will continue to need support and treatment through college and beyond.
ADHD is one of the most under-recognized and underserved neurodevelopmental disorders in adults. Untreated, its impact on adults is severe.
Success Comes with Support and Accommodations
To succeed, students with ADHD need a comprehensive system of support that fosters academic engagement, clear academic goals, student success, and career preparation. Training in time management, planning, organization, and knowledge management promotes persistence among students with weaknesses in these areas.
College students must seek out the support they need and construct their own scaffolding in this new environment. It is exceedingly important that college students learn to advocate for themselves and seek out support to ensure success in the classroom and beyond.
Guide for Online Colleges & Disabilities by AccreditedOnlineColleges.org
If you’d like to understand more about ADHD accommodations, ADDA+ offers a Virtual Support Group for College Students with ADHD!