ADHD and Higher Education: The Struggles of Living with ADHD

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    • #109501


      I’m new to the forum and only discovered it about six months ago but there’s so much support, love and help here, it’s fantastic!!

      In summary of what’s below; I’m looking for information on fixing my college GPA that was damaged by an undiagnosed ADHD for a very long time. I have graduated, so options that would have been present at enrollment are no longer possible. I’ll start with some background so that you have context. Bare with me, it’s a little long.

      My childhood was structured with strict Asian parents who implemented academic discipline. I was always considered hyperactive, outgoing, and fidgety but no one including my parents looked into it.

      I was tested before middle school on various academic criteria including IQ, and I skipped two grades and performed well school. The first signs of something weren’t right was my ACT scores; I had near perfect in Math and Science, but the English portion was just above passing. Nonetheless, that didn’t affect me too much, and I got into a good university with a full scholarship. The wheels came off the bus soon after that, I struggled in college without the structure I had and wasn’t performing well. I failed and repeated many classes and didn’t receive much assistance from college advisors or my family. Since I skipped a few grades, I was 16 years old as a freshman and wasn’t able to articulate what I was going through.

      It took 3-4 universities and me about ten years, but I graduated with a degree in Materials Engineering and found employment. I was successful at work and got promoted quite fast, and had added extras like patent application and publications to boot. I still had problems with schedules, deadlines, being on time, and being bored or falling asleep at meetings but my work was exemplary, so it was overlooked. I even got married, and life was pretty good at that point.

      After about 15 years in the semiconductor industry, my inability to meet deadlines finally caught up with me and started having problems. Around the same time, I decided that I could no longer work in this industry and I decided to go back to school to change careers. While studying for entrance exams for graduate school, my wife noticed that my reading speed and comprehension was deficient. This lead to a yearlong journey of going to various doctors and finally being diagnosed and treated by Dr. William Dodson, a well-known practitioner in the field.

      Soon after treatment, my life changed; to say that I am a different person is an understatement. I am currently in a masters program, and my GPA is a 4.0 a stark contrast to my college GPA if 2.1. So that brings me to the reason I’m here; after my masters, I will be applying to law schools. Ultimately that is what I want to do, and I feel passionate about advocating for people like me through the legal system. Unfortunately, law schools only look at two metrics for admission, LSAT scores, and GPA. My LSAT scores are in the 99th percentile, but the GPA is ranked in the 1 percentile. Suffice to say, this is an uphill battle (Law schools do not consider graduate GPA). My LSAT scores exceed the admission requirement for places like Yale or Harvard (ranked 1-2) but the GPA takes me out of contention, and I’m only able to be considered by schools ranked below the top 25. This is extremely disheartening when I can’t fully exercise my potential due to something that happened decades ago.

      I was not going to take this lying down, so I’m trying to appeal my GPA to the colleges that I attended. This isn’t unheard of as I thought and a few universities do something called Retro Active Withdrawal (since I graduated already, grade replacement options are not possible). Retroactive Withdrawal is a process where your GPA is amended to reflect a hardship.

      Dr. Dodson has been incredibly supportive throughout the process. What I am looking for from the community is information on this matter that you can provide. It would be great if I can talk with someone who has done this or someone employed at an academic institution that can provide me with policy information.

      Again, I much appreciate any help, and I’ll keep updating this post as I go through the process, so that it may benefit others.

    • #109508

      Great story. I’d be very interested to know what medications you are taking and how you’ve been able to turn things around as you’ve described. I too have a high IQ (top 1-2%) and was able to compensate for having inattentive ADD throughout most of my life. At 50 I finally was took an IQ test, which led to the quandary of my very average academic success during my educational years. I didn’t pursue anything beyond a BA because I knew intuitively that I’d be unable to complete the necessary course work involved with a higher degree – which, incidentally, should easily be accomplished with a well-meaning hard-working person like myself who has an IQ in the top 1-2 percent.

      The difficulty for people with ADD who have high IQ’s is they are able to compensate under most circumstances, but not always – and therein lies the problem. Employers don’t want folks who can perform most of the time – especially at higher levels of the organization. What’s more, is ADD’ers will have “flashes” of high achievement while in the workforce, but can’t (or simply are unable due to their ADD) continue to show their brilliance. As such, these ADD’ers are most times thought of as underachievers or simply lazy. I think an employer can clearly see the early potential (in an ADD’er), but eventually gets frustrated with the individuals’ lack of achievement, shortcomings, and inability to take things to the next level – and thusly either gives up on the person or simply moves on (one way or another). For an ADD’er, this is a very disheartening string of events – events that I’m sure most every ADD’er could clearly articulate has happened to them at some point in their lives.

      I’ve begun to get my arms around my personal situation and it’s been extremely enlightening. Much contemplation, experimentation, and self-reflection have been a major part of the journey.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

    • #109533


      Thanks for your post and sharing your story! You hit the nail in the head when it comes to people with higher cognitive ability and compensating for ADHD conditions. A lot of the times, we get left behind.

      The issue I found with getting diagnosed was that if a Psychiatrist is not explicitly trained in ADHD, then treatment may not be optimal. Many people who are diagnosed are suboptimally treated. Therefore, finding the right doctor is essential.

      In that regard, Dr. Dodson was fantastic, if you are in search of help the Dodson Center for ADHD is a tremendous place to start. They even do Skype consolations if you do not live nearby. My initial evaluation was over 2 hours, and it was extensive. Then I was trailed on two types of drugs (Adderall and the Ritalin families) with dose incrementing by 5mg each day till I found my optimal dosage that balanced my cognitive skill improvements with any adverse side effects. I was also evaluated for Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD), a common psychological condition that accompanies ADHD. After all the dose titrations, I’m currently on 15mg of Focalin XR twice a day and 4mg of Clonidine at night (for RSD). As I have mentioned earlier, the treatment has remarkably altered my life for the better.

    • #109536

      Wow, you have given me a great gift with your post. I wasn’t entirely sure what Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria was so I looked it up. Interestingly enough it brought me back to this website and an article written by Dr. Dodson.

      I fit so closely with this diagnosis that I literally had chills reading the article. The part where Dr. Dodson discusses being a people pleaser was revealing to me. I’ll post it here for other readers – Dr. Dodson writes: “They become people pleasers. They scan every person they meet to figure out what that person admires and praises. Then, that’s the false self they present. Often this becomes such a dominating goal that they forget what they actually wanted from their own lives. They are too busy making sure other people aren’t displeased with them.” I’ve had that internal discussion with myself my entire life. Decision making is not a strong area for people pleasers. People pleasing becomes so ingrained that making solid informed decisions (for oneself) is difficult. And since people pleasers rarely make decisions for themselves, they are at the mercy of the other person or persons. What’s more, the “muscle” people need to argue/discuss issues of everyday life is weak because we so rarely exercise it. People pleaser’s, almost by definition, are not good decision maker’s – which is frustrating in and of itself. Although I don’t want my way all the time (far from it), it would be nice to be on an even playing field in terms of decision making. I think this may be why I don’t associate with very many people – because inevitably I am odd man out – doing what everybody else wants to do. I’m reasonably social, but not a social animal by any stretch. When I engage in social activities (going out to eat, going to a movie, playing games, etc. etc.) the decision on what is done is rarely something I’ve suggested. It feels like the group is conspiring against me. It literally does. I’ve been in a piss-poor mood on a number of occasions in social settings and nobody can quite figure it out. I’m not sure I exactly realized it at the time. I can go along for days, weeks and even months on some things, but eventually I’ll crack and get my point across (sadly) in the only manner I really know how which is to blow a gasket. Which is extremely counterproductive in any sense of the word. People are aghast as they say, “I just said one little thing and you blew up at me”. Well, it’s not just one little thing, it’s the culmination of lots of little things and the frustration that lies therein – brewing.

      I’ve always been a fighter and have always loved to learn (though difficult by traditional standards), and I will continue the pursuit of finding a better solution for myself and through posts like this, hopefully, help others too. If it were blood pressure, it would be easy, but since this condition is one size fits one, the process is a bit more difficult.


    • #109622

      I’m happy that I was able to shed some light on RSD issue for someone else!

      RSD isn’t as well known but it is equally damaging to a person. I’ve had similar issues as you have mentioned; lack of assertiveness, worrying over what others thought, and people pleasing occupied a large portion of my psyche. It wasn’t very healthy, and I’m dealing with those issues much differently now.

      By the way, are you currently in treatment or are you still considering medication/therapy options?

    • #109767

      Diagnosed only a short few months ago and currently trying to fine-tune the treatment with a combination of prescription medication and supplements. I can see from your post that a higher level of expertise has paid great dividends toward your overall treatment and outcomes. I intend to do the same. My treatment thus far has been good and I can now see what a difference it can make. I do, however, feel that a doctor who specializes in this area – particularly in the inattentive side of the condition, can do nothing but help even more.

      A few thoughts on what I feel like with inattentive ADD:

      If a person works a job from 9-5, M-F they will generally develop a routine in their sleeping patterns and get roughly the same amount of sleep each night. Now, if that same person goes out on Friday night, stays up several hours longer than normal, has a few drinks on top of that and then wakes up at the same time they normally do during their work week – they will inevitably be tired and groggy in the first few minutes upon waking. In those first moments of waking grogginess, the person can probably still function reasonably normal, but almost certainly doesn’t have their full cognitive function either. The cognitive capability (or lack thereof) in those first moments of waking grogginess is what it feels like to have inattentive ADD. You, my friend, are a case study unto itself – a person with a very high IQ who can only muster a 2.1 GPA in undergraduate college – only to prevail with the highest honors when the fog is lifted. Inspiring indeed.

      At our best, inattentive ADD’ers can perform like few others, at our worst we can scarcely remember 5 things we went to the grocery store for, or perhaps a simple set of instructions – and at our normal (the remaining 95% of our lives), we have this pervasive dullness that sets in like a dank musty fog and lifts only occasionally.

    • #109812

      Wow i’m Really glad I found this! I too am pretty smart, but I don’t know my actuall IQ and I doubt it’s anywhere near as high as yours,but I always had done well in school and didn’t ever really have to study to make A’s. However, since going to college I was trying and trying without much success and I always felt behind because it was so hard for me to sit down and focuse for hours like I needed too. This, ultimately started resulting in me having anxiety and panic attacks since I am a competitive person who doesn’t handle failure very well! My mom and dad suggested I start seeing a therapist, but after a few sessions she got so booked up that it was hard to find a time to meet and I ultimately stopped going. I made a friend about 6 months later and we were studying together and she had ADD. She noticed that I was having a lot of the same issues and suggested I talk to a someone. I had never considered ADD since I 1. Only thought of ADHD and thought they were the same thing at the time 2. I had always done well in school up until now. I eventually got diagnosed by a nurse practitioner at my GP. She has been really nice and helpful, but for reading what you said I think I would benefit from seeing someone who is specialized in dealing with ADD. The only problem is that I am a broke college student who can’t afford to pay a huge amount to see someone. I do have insurance and my dad would help out some, but my mom doesn’t even know I am on ADD medication. She doesn’t believe that I have a problem (since I didn’t behave hyperactive as a child and did well in school.) she doesn’t understand like I do now how ADD is different and can take on many different shapes. She basically freaked on me at the mention of me even seeing a doctor to be diagnosed, so me and my dad have opted not to tell her and I just tell him as little as possible. So my question for the original poster is how could I find a more specialized person to take a look at my diagnosis and not pay an arm and a leg? P.s. typed this on my phone and it cuts off the edges so sorry for any spelling or grammatical errors!

      Also for the original poster, I would like to go to medical school and my gpa isn’t ideal either. I know they have interviews that can really be a place to talk about issues they may see in your transcript, and can help improve your application. So if there is an interview process for the law school you could very clearly show the difference testing your ADD has made with your lSAT and master’s gpa. Also, it never hurts to call the college’s office and ask to speak with someone about this issue and see how best to showcase what you have to offer! They may be able to give you the best advice since they know the ins and outs of the academic world.

    • #109818

      Wagner2020, you are too kind! Glad to hear of your recent diagnosis and you are feeling better. It will take a few months for you to find a routine and correct medications that work. As you have mentioned, someone who specializes in Adult ADHD will have additional guidelines that make the process a little easier. Your observation of ADHD is so accurate; most of my life I have felt like I was walking through three feet of water, and that’s such a heavy burden to carry.

      Your comments reminded me of something funny that happened a few years ago when I wasn’t aware of my ADHD. I went to buy groceries; my wife tells me it was for milk and eggs, and I came home with a kitten, and no milk and eggs. So we’ve all been there!

      Mch08101, thanks for your advice and I’m hoping that I can shine at the interviews. Although my graduate GPA won’t count as a metric, hopefully, it’ll indicate my undergrad GPA was an anomaly and not the norm. By the way, don’t ever doubt your self; your observations and advice are evidentiary of your intelligence and empathy towards others.

      I’m glad that you have support from your father, it’s great to have someone in your corner. I bet your college has additional support in the form of clubs or mentors that can be of extra help for you. If you have not graduated already and have a formal ADHD diagnosis, then you have a lot of option in regards to your GPA. I have found that many colleges have something called amnesty/forgiveness programs and other option such as repeat/delete to wipe out those bad grades due to medical conditions. Please contact your disability center and your advisor. Don’t wait till it’s too late!

      I encourage you to go to a specialist in Adult ADHD in your area. Most providers will work with you on payment. My psychiatrist pretty much wrote the book on ADHD, so he’s expensive at 400$ an hour, but after the initial two-hour consultation, we have managed through email and phone calls. He accepts installment or ongoing partial payments.

      I have found out that mothers and Adult ADHD is a volatile mixture. My initial talks with her didn’t go that well either. She said the same thing as your mother “you were never hyperactive as a child.” May I suggest that you try to reengage her. It took some time, but she came around eventually and became a source of support. The realization I made about her initial response was that she felt as if she had failed me. My mother thought she didn’t see the problem and she didn’t take care of me as a child. I told her that you did the best you could and let us move on and see what we can do now than worry about the past.

      We had to talk out a lot of things, but ADHD diagnosis sometimes isn’t all about the patient, it affects everyone around them as well.

      • #109827

        Thanks so much for replying! Yeah I haven’t graduated yet, and was just diagnosed 6 months ago so all of this is really new to me, and i’m still trying to figure it all out. I would love to be able to talk to my mom about this, because i’ve Been having issues lately with insurance and medication and thus have gone back to having issues (such as not being able to motitivate myself to study for my nutrition midterm tomorrow). And my mom and dad have always been so supportive and my rocks, but in this situation I have had to do it on my own, and can’t even really talk about it with them. My dad is understanding, and wants what is best for me but feels uncomfortable about talking about it since my mom doesn’t know. I think honestly (since this is genetic) my mom is who I got it from. I can especially see the rejection sensitivity disorder, now that I know what it is (thanks for that by the way). Even if the signs of add weren’t there until later in life I have always been referred to as very emotional, a worrier, always thinking the worst, being my toughest critic, and afraid of failure. My w
        Mom is very similar and has more outburst then me. It’s intristing to look back at situations now, and consider that as a factor for both of our behavior. The thing with my mom’s opposition to me and add I think is honestly the medication being an abusive substance. My family has a history of alcohol abuse, and my mom loves watching those documentaries about things like Adderall Abuse being so prevelant in college and how it can ruin their life… so she just would rather deny it than me have anything to do with stimulant medication. I know if I could give her the facts and logic she would understand, but getting her to listen without automatically rejecting it or getting upset is the hard part that I would rather avoid for now. Also, totally going to lol at on campus resources now! I just hope it’s not to comlex. I would love to know more about the gpa programs available. As for your situation, I know that it my take a couple time applying, but someone will see what a great lawyer you would make and will see past something like a gpa! I have had the same worries with med school, and I tell myself that I know I would make a good doctor ( I mean us adders do way better under rough circumstances or times that get adrenaline running), and it is one of the few things I am excited and interested about! So even if I have to annoy them by applying year after year I will make this dream come true! I would love to know how your story ends if you want to share, and any other things you discover!

    • #109873


      It’s common to have family members that also have ADHD and research indicate that you may even have relationships or gravitate towards people with ADHD. After my diagnosis, my father and my wife both got tested and were diagnosed, so it’s more than likely your mom has ADHD.

      I’m glad that you are contacting the disability office! I think it will help you out. I’ve been in contact with the disability office during my graduate work, and they are supportive and go out of their way to help me out. The process is straightforward, and all I needed was an official diagnosis from a doctor.

      A lot of the negative media about stimulants are because people without ADHD keep using them thinking it will make them smarter. A study recently conducted proved the opposite, a non-ADHD person does worse with stimulants. Stimulants only help people with ADHD, and there is absolutely no evidence anywhere that it is addictive! It’s not uncommon for people with undiagnosed ADHD to seek or abuse stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine; they both acts as a source of self-medication.

      I found these resources below to be helpful, so I’ll post them here. is a great place to find a local provider that specializes in adult ADHD. The Hallowell blog and videos are fantastic. He’s a psychiatrist that treat ADHD that also have ADHD!


      Hope you are doing well and making progress. Reach out if you need help.

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