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How to Ace the Transition to College: Strategies from an ADHD Coach

Are you dying to begin your first college semester? Or feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious about leaving home? Use these tips to build up your self-confidence, stop worrying, and start loving your future.

A college student with ADHD walks across campus carrying her laptop
A college student with ADHD walks across campus carrying her laptop

Get Organized

In high school, did you repeatedly forget your papers at home? If so, use one master binder for each class — a place to store all physical materials. Worried about losing it too? Invest in the Tile app. While you’re at it, purchase 3 more to attach to your agenda, keys, and wallet.

Keep Track of Time

If you’re like most teens, you do everything on your phone – scheduling, making lists, but also playing games and using Instagram. It’s simultaneously your greatest tool, and your biggest distractor.

What’s the solution? Get an old-school agenda, like Passion Planner, which allows you to see the full week laid out in 30-minute increments from 6am – 11pm. There is a spot to write your personal and work/school goals and action steps to achieve them with extra space to include monthly reflections on what you’ve achieved and how to improve it next month.

With each course syllabus you receive, write down every exam, group project, and paper due date. Try using the Pilot Frixion .07mm Erasable Pen in different colors – one for each course. Then, as you hand in assignments, mark the grade you received next to each so you can see where you stand in each class as the semester progresses. This process creates a routine around handing in work that will help you keep yourself on track.

Then, be sure to write in social engagements, volunteering, and time with friends and family. Scheduling you time is a good way to take care of yourself, and keep from burning out. A quick look at your calendar can remind you to say NO when you have too much on your plate.

Create A Daily Routine

Getting enough sleep and eating a protein-packed breakfast are crucial to your success in class. Before you leave for college, start going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time in the morning. That way, the alarm going off before your first morning seminar will be a little less of a shock. Use apps to track your sleep – like Sleep as One (Android) or Sleep Cycle (iOS) to make sure you’re getting enough. And talk with your roommate about the importance of having a reliable daily schedule.

Explain What Works for You

If having a fidget ring, stress ball, music, or doodle pad helps you focus more on a specific topic, let your professor know, and ask if you can use the fidget in class so long as it’s not disruptive. This way, when they see you with one earbud in, they will know you’re trying hard to focus, not just zoning out.

Build Relationships with Professors

In high school, buddying up with teachers made you a suck up. In college, your professors are the people who will evaluate you in class, work with you one on one, and potentially submit a reference for you when you graduate and start applying for jobs. Their recommendations could make the difference between getting a job before your peers or filling out thousands of online applications with no reply! Start building those relationships early.

Be Realistic About Study Time

Sure, we all hate studying, but for subjects that are especially challenging we just have to buckle down. Think about college as a full time job. It should take up at least 40 hours of your week. Most students are in class for 20-25 hours, so that means you should schedule the remaining 15-20 in the library, or with a tutor if you need it.

Get a Coach

Your coach should have your back and encourage you to live to your fullest potential. This doesn’t always have to be a professional coach. Teachers, resource teachers, disability resource facilitators, learning strategists, friends and family can all take on this role in your life. It can be anyone so long as they approach supporting you in a collaborative way and believe in mutual accountability. If there are specific things stressing you out, role play with your coach the potential ways the situation could play out. It can reduce anxiety, and calm your nerves.

Following steps like these help you succeed in college, and in life. Learn to reach out to your support network for help if you feel like you are slipping. They can help keep you on the “going somewhere great” path! Then, sit back and celebrate yourself – you went to college, and you’re doing it!