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“3 College Tips to Help Students Stress Less, Learn More”

OK, so college isn’t known for its lack of stress and sleeplessness. But with these basic college tips, you can avoid overwhelm, cram a whole lot less, and stay engaged in your courses.

College tests young adults’ time-management, stress-management, and organizational skills — triply so for students with ADHD and executive function challenges. Assignments, midterms, and finals seem so far away at the dawn of each semester, but often catch students by surprise as they juggle the academic, social, and extracurricular commitments of college.

Regardless of your schedule this semester, following these three basic college tips can mean the difference between success and stress.

College Tips for Students with ADHD

1. Create a Calendar — and Stick to It

Most freshman realize quickly that it’s totally up to them to create their own routines and stick to a schedule. (Which was likely not the case in high school.)

Use the calendar function of your college email account to map out your personal schedule at the beginning of the semester. It’ll take a bit of time and sustained attention, but tackling this now will save you many stress-filled hours over the course of the semester.

With your calendar open to the weekly view, follow these steps:

  • Create recurring events (with alerts) for all in-person and/or synchronous class meetings. You can find class times and dates in each course syllabus.
  • Note each course’s midterm, final, and big assignment due dates. Highlight these events in a color that stands out for you, so it’s easy to see when they are coming up.
  • Block off 90-minute to 2-hour homework blocks several times a week. Not sure when to do homework? Think realistically: When do you feel most productive? Is it late morning? Right after class? After dinner?

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After you’ve laid out your academic (and personal) schedule, it’s important to actually refer back to your calendar.

  • Check your calendar each morning. That way, you’ll be more likely to stick to your schedule. Link your school email to your phone so you can see your calendar events there, too.
  • Be intentional about making changes. If you skip a work session, reschedule it by clicking and dragging the event to a new day and time.
  • At your first scheduled work session each week, spend a few minutes scrolling ahead in your calendar to review what’s coming up. This will help you see what you need to prioritize this week and next.

2. Treat Assignments Like Study Sessions

Most of your papers and exams will be based on class readings and lectures. Often, students rush through weekly assignments, and then cram the day before an exam or essay deadline.

To avoid cramming, treat each “small” assignment as a chance to prepare for those high-stakes assessments. By doing so, you will benefit in two major ways:

  • You’ll understand the course material, or you’ll have a chance to ask questions in advance. This will help you stay engaged in class, and you’ll have a stronger foundation as you take higher-level courses.
  • Preparing for exams and projects will be less stressful. Instead of cramming all night, you’ll engage in productive writing or review sessions as you near these assessments.

Here are some study strategies to use:

[Read: Surviving Semester’s End]

For classes with essays or research papers

  • Download the readings each week and save them in a folder on your desktop. (Or any other easily accessible location like a Google Drive.) That way, when you need to find quotes to cite, you won’t waste time finding the articles again.
  • Complete the readings on time, and take notes on each reading to summarize the main ideas and key supporting details. If you have a research paper coming up, note sections you may want to quote.
  • When you get the assignment, create an outline and review your sources for the quotes you will use before you start writing. If your school has a writing center, make an appointment to get some guidance on organizing your paper.

For classes with midterms and finals

  • Treat weekly assignments as a chance to assess your grasp of the material. Ask questions in class or schedule a meeting with the professor if you are struggling.
  • Take notes in class to stay focused (or refocus when you become distracted). Note key points that your professor makes and examples shared. Listen for clues about what the professor thinks is most important and/or will include on the exam.
  • Attend optional review or test-prep sessions. You can also create a study group with a few classmates.

3. Take Care of Yourself

It’s important to balance your work time and downtime. Running on empty will hurt both.

  • Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night. Everything works better when you’re rested, including memory and impulse control.
  • Avoid dramatic shifts in your schedule. If you have class at 9 am during the week, sleeping past noon every weekend will cause “social jet lag” that makes it harder to focus. Strive for moderation in your nights out.
  • Stay hydrated. Aim for eight glasses of water each day. In high school, you may have carried a water bottle with you. Try it on campus, too.
  • Some physical activity each day benefits your learning and your mood.

With these three strategies, remember that you have more independence in college AND more responsibility. These routines will help you to get the most out of your classes and your personal time on campus.

College Tips: Next Steps

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