College Application Guide for Neurodivergent Students
The college application process can seem overwhelming but breaking tasks into smaller steps using tracking tools and deadlines will minimize the stress of college admissions.
You’ve narrowed down your list of colleges, and now it’s time to tackle those applications. If your neurodivergent brain is dreading the arduous, multi-step process, this plan and system for tracking your tasks will help you get started with less stress.
1. Use Tracking Tools
Create a system to track college application deadlines. If you’re a paper person, try a big wall calendar, whiteboard, or use a weekly/monthly planner. If you prefer digital apps, use an e-calendar that’s accessible from different devices, like Microsoft Outlook or Google. Also consider using sticky notes, phone alerts, spreadsheets — whatever system works for you.
Check each school’s website for application deadlines. In your task tracker, build in cushions by scheduling each task’s deadline one week before it’s truly due. More than 1,000 colleges use the Common App program, wherein you apply to many schools with one application. Other schools use proprietary applications and requirements. Check the “Admissions” link on each college website to confirm its methods and dates. Ask someone you trust to double-check the deadlines in your tracker to ensure accuracy.
2. Give Thought to Essays
Determine how many essays you need to write and the topics allowed for each. Enter due dates in your tracker for each essay’s outline, first draft, second draft, review by a trusted adult, revisions, and final draft. Use graphic organizers, mind maps, or templates to organize your thoughts. Body doubling with a friend can increase motivation and accountability while you work.
3. Schedule Admission Exams
Many colleges are now “test optional,” but standardized admission exams are still required at other institutions. Don’t discount these exams since colleges may use SAT or ACT scores to award merit or other scholarships. Schedule and take any required exams as soon as possible in case you want to retest later. If you need testing accommodations, request them.
4. Request Recommendations
Decide which teachers, counselors, or other mentors you’ll ask to write letters of recommendation and provide them with early due dates when you make the requests. Offer suggestions to make it easier for them to write about you (e.g., list your clubs, activities, sports, internships, jobs, and volunteer work) Check-in if needed before the due date. Send thank-you notes when the recommendation letters have been completed.
5. Gather Transcripts
Ask your guidance counselor how to request transcripts and complete the college admissions process.
6. Search for Scholarships
Research scholarships that are available from your school as well as from local and national organizations. Track requirements and deadlines and apply for applicable ones.
7. Consider Financial Aid
Check federal and state FAFSA deadlines (studentaid.gov) and track them. Gather financial records and complete the forms.
The application process can seem overwhelming but breaking big tasks into smaller steps can help. Review tasks weekly, track your progress, ask for help when needed, and celebrate each task you complete!
College Applications: Next Steps
- Read: The College Survival Guide for Students with ADHD
- Watch: “The College Application Guide for Neurodivergent Students”
- Read: Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Choose A College
- Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?
Elizabeth C. McCarron, M.Ed., ACC, is a certified ADHD life coach.
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