Ask the Experts

Q: What Are Good Alternatives to College for Students with ADHD?

The gap year is growing in popularity for students who graduate high school without a clear vision of the future. That time may be used for internships, work experience, and gradually increased independence. But is it a good idea for teens with ADHD?

Q: “My son is 17 years old and entering his final year of school, so he needs to consider a plan for his future. Though academically bright, he likely won’t be ready to start college in 12 months’ time because emotionally and socially he behaves like someone a few years younger. He’s told us he’s not ready to live independently and seems quite anxious about this. Over the last year, his social confidence has improved and he’s become more independent, but I’m not convinced he will be ready. Should we encourage him to face his demons and work through his difficulties, or point him toward postponing college for a year? I worry that if he takes a gap year he’ll never reach his full potential. Many thanks for your advice.” – UKMum


Hi UKMum:

Take your cues from your son and to listen to your gut. Your son is telling you what he is ready for and relaying his comfort level to you. You also say he is emotionally and socially closer to a 15 year old. Would you send a 15 year old off to live on his own? Probably not. I suggest you allow him to take that gap year and then pat yourself on the back for raising a young man who has the insight to know whether he is ready to test his wings and fly off on his own.

Now for the long answer: A “gap year” (time off before starting the next level of education) can provide your son with an opportunity to learn to live independently, to improve his social confidence, and to gain maturity. Taking time off has enabled many of my student coaching clients to develop the maturity needed to start college with a sense of purpose and drive.

Sit down with your son and decide what his gap year will look like. Will he travel? Work? Take classes at a local college? Or devise a combination of all three? Establish clear parameters, schedule check-ins to discuss next steps, and keep the lines of communication open.

A wise man once told me that college is 30% academics and 70% life skills. And that 70%  was the more important component of success in the “real world.” That wise man was right because, as I’m sure you know, education is not limited only to a classroom.

[Read This Now: Alternative to College for Teens with ADHD]

Good luck to you all!


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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Updated on December 16, 2019

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