The College Quest
Step 3. Compare disability services
Until now, your parents and teachers have determined and arranged for the services you've needed to succeed. In college, you're pretty much on your own. Colleges are required to provide only "reasonable accommodations" to students who identify themselves as disabled, and it's up to you to ask for them. Many schools claim to offer services for students with ADHD, but those services may be minimal, or ill-suited to your needs.
To get the facts, call the student disabilities office at each school you're considering, and ask these questions (provided by Landmark College, a school devoted to students with learning disabilities and ADHD):
- Who is responsible for ADHD services? Getting a name lets you know that someone in the disabilities office understands the needs of students with ADHD. ADDers typically need guidance in time management, organization, scheduling, and other areas that a general "disabilities specialist" may not understand.
- What services are available? Does the school offer only the required "reasonable accommodations," like extra time on exams, or is there additional support, such as a learning specialist or coach?
List the accommodations available at each school, and compare them to those you needed in high school. Find out what each accommodation involves. Does "extra time on tests" mean you'll complete the exam outside your professor's office? Or will you be provided with a special room and a proctor, and be allowed to take breaks?
- Is there a fee for extra support? At some schools, support comes with a price tag - up to several thousand dollars beyond the cost of tuition. These programs offer greater guidance each step of the way, and can keep students from feeling overwhelmed at a large institution. They're also good for students who are undone by the mundane details of college life - such as arranging housing, choosing a meal plan, and renewing financial aid. Typically, schools that charge extra for additional support offer basic services for free.
- How flexible is the program? ADD students have a hard time planning ahead, and frequently don't seek help until there's a crisis. How quickly you can get attention is a good indicator of how well the office understands and accommodates the ADD student.
- Who will advise you about academic issues? When it comes to scheduling classes and other important matters, an advisor who's unfamiliar with ADHD can steer you in the wrong direction. If you've decided on a major, ask whether a professor in that department has experience with ADDers. If not, ask the disabilities office to recommend an appropriate advisor.
- Can students with ADHD register early? It's important to make sure your class schedule isn't too demanding. What's more, classes should be scheduled for the times of day when you're most alert. Yet ADDers often register at the last minute - or miss registration entirely. Find out whether the school will let you sign up early for classes each term.
- Do the school's writing and math centers include professionals trained to work with ADDers? If the help centers are staffed by students, you're unlikely to get the specialized attention you need.
Step 4. Take a tour
Once you've identified a handful of schools that look good on paper, schedule a tour and an overnight stay at each. While you're there, check out:
- The culture. For an ADD student, it's important to be in an atmosphere that feels warm and accepting. Are the students and faculty welcoming? Would you feel comfortable telling these people that you have ADHD? Read the signs posted around campus to get a sense of priorities. Are they mostly about parties, or do you see more positive spare-time options?
- The campus. Is it attractive and comfortable? Could it feel like a second home? Is the school surrounded by bookstores and coffee shops - or by bars and liquor stores? Look for a place you can picture yourself studying, like the student center or a small lounge.
- The disabilities office. Schedule a meeting with the staff. Would you feel comfortable working with them? Ask to speak with a few ADD students about their experiences at the school.
- Academic departments. If you have a major in mind, visit that department and speak with professors or the chairman. Explain that you may require accommodations, and note whether professors seem flexible.
Choosing a school can seem intimidating, but you should remember that you're the best judge of what feels right. If you're honest with yourself and trust your own instincts, your college years will be good ones.