ADHD News & Research

Study: College Students with ADHD at Greater Risk for Low Grades, Dropping Out

College students with ADHD face an elevated risk for significant academic difficulties, including low grades and high dropout rates, according to a recent study that systematically examined the functioning of students with attention deficit in higher education.

February 24, 2021

College students with ADHD score half a grade level below their peers from freshman year onward and face a higher-than-average risk for dropping out of higher education, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.1

Researchers reviewed annual psychological and educational evaluations of 201 college students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) — 97 receiving medication, 104 not receiving medication — and compared them to 205 college students without ADHD. Demographic, psychological, and service-related (such as receipt of academic support) variables were also considered as predictors of performance, semester GPA shifts, progress toward graduation, and self-reported study skill strategies.

College students with ADHD were found to have significantly lower GPAs and reported less frequent use of study skills strategies than did students without ADHD. Significantly more students without ADHD (59.1%) persisted through eight semesters relative to students who had ADHD and were not receiving medication (49%). While medication was not shown to substantially improve academic outcomes, the following variables were correlated with academic success for students with ADHD:

  • having fewer symptoms of depression
  • possessing better executive functioning skills like planning and time management
  • having received educational accommodations in high school as well as academic support services in college

The study’s lead researcher, George DuPaul, associate dean for research in Lehigh University’s College of Education, said it was “surprising to see the magnitude of the academic deficits experienced by college students with ADHD because these were students who had the skills to successfully graduate from high school and matriculate in a four-year college or university… We expected smaller declines in their educational performance in college.”2

These findings highlight the importance of making academic support services available to students with ADHD before college, the need to strengthen executive functioning skills in high school, and the critical need to screen for and treat depressive symptoms in college students with ADHD.


1Dupaul, George, et al. Academic Trajectories of College Students with and without ADHD: Predictors of Four-Year Outcomes. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (Feb. 2021)

2Research finds college students with ADHD are likely to experience significant challenges. EurekaAlert! (Feb. 2021)