Ask the Experts

Q: What ADHD Essentials Should My Teen Bring to College?

With executive functions still very much developing, teens with ADHD need to add to their college packing lists these products that promote organization, time management, and accountability.

A: “I am overwhelmed. My son in an incoming college freshman and we are in the process of getting him ready to go. During high school, he was told what supplies he needed for his classes, so he didn’t have to come up with any ideas. Now he is on his own. He’s really disorganized and living in a small dorm room with a roommate. What school supplies should he be using? What do most kids use? Everyone talks about what things to buy for their room, but I can’t find any advice on what school supplies we should purchase!” – OverwhelmedMomof1


Hi OverwhelmedMomof1:

The college workload allows very little wiggle room for mistakes. According to my student coaching clients, the right supplies and organizing systems can make all the difference in your productivity and success. Here are their top five must-haves.

1. Folders. Folders. Folders.

Contrary to popular belief, college is not paperless. Some professors require students to print out lecture decks prior to class; others only accept hard copies of papers; and most syllabi or other important handouts are still printed. Make sure your son has a folder for each class (preferably color coded with the rest of his supplies) so that all important papers and handouts can be stashed immediately whether he is working remotely or in person. Make sure he has a three-hole punch and binders on hand if he prefers to house his papers that way.

2. Big Rings.

The best way to keep spiral notebooks and folders together is to use big metal rings, available at any office supply store or online. For large lecture classes, it’s much easier to use a notebook and a folder in corresponding colors, held together by a ring, than to try to keep a bulky binder under control.

3. Advising.

Have your son designate a notebook (doesn’t have to be huge) and a folder for anything handed out during RA or academic advisory meetings. Often these papers have key information and deadlines, so make sure he writes any key dates in his planner before he files away papers.

[Read: College? There’s an App for That.]

And a tip within a tip? Purchase a small notebook or advise him to have the “Notes” app handy on his phone for jotting any notes or questions specific to academic advising. When appointments with his advisor come up, these notes can make those meetings much more productive.

4. Paper and/or Electronic Calendar.

Your son needs to see time in order to manage it. And trust me when I say that managing time is critical to his success in college. Whether he uses a paper planner or electronic calendar, make sure it is set up as a grid system so he can see his week at a glance. He should record all his class assignments, school activities, work commitments, even plans with friends. This will allow him to know what he needs to do and when he has time to get things done.

5. Typed Notes.

The transition from taking paper notes in high school to typing notes with a laptop in college can trip up some students. Make sure he establishes a workable system, whether it is Google Docs, Evernote, or just plain old Word docs. It is essential for him to set up subject folders and a file naming convention on his computer before the semester begins, so notes can easily be categorized, saved, and accessed as needed. Anywhere. And at any time.

And a tip within a tip? Don’t forget to back up everything to the cloud. I can guarantee there will be a computer mishap at some point in the semester. This tip alone will save hours of anguish; not to mention phone calls to you!

[Tips From A College Student: “How I Made the Grades”]

6. Magazine Files.

Magazine files will be your son’s best friend for school supply organization; especially when dorm rooms are short on surface space. If his dorm room desk has a hutch, place the magazine files on top, label one for each class and place all his books, folders, etc. in them when not in use. This makes finding what he needs easy so he can grab and go in a breeze.

If you would like more tips and tools for setting up your college student for success, please visit our website at orderoochaos.com.

Good luck to your son!

College Packing List: Next Steps


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.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!


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Updated on October 9, 2020

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