High School

Giving College a Test Run

High school students with ADHD or learning disabilities can benefit greatly from summer courses at a local community college.

College classroom for a student with ADHD testing out of courses
College classroom for a student with ADHD testing out of courses

If you’re a high school student who can’t wait to go to college, consider this: Most community colleges offer an assortment of summer courses that are open to all, and some of the nation’s top universities operate summer programs aimed at high schoolers like you.

For students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a summer at college can be a lifesaver. If you’re floundering in high school because of uninspiring courses, it can rekindle your passion for learning, give you a preview of college life, and jazz up your academic résumé. If you’re a senior without the grades to get into a four-year college, taking summer courses at a community college gives you a second chance.

As an ADHD coach, I often recommend college courses to jump-start bright students in need of motivation. See if you can identify with these teens. (The names have been changed, but their stories are true.)

Joshua: Finding Direction

Like many students with ADHD, Joshua was bored in school and saw no point in trying. After a dismal sophomore year, his parents played a hunch. Although he was only 16, they enrolled him in computer courses at the local community college.

Joshua was captivated. He worked hard and returned to high school with newfound confidence and a career goal — to work at a company that develops computer games. In his junior year he earned A’s and B’s, up from C’s and D’s the year before.

Many students with ADHD struggle in classes that are too humdrum to hold their attention. While most high school classes focus on the basics, community-college and summer college programs offer a wealth of exciting subjects, like acting, art, astronomy, journalism, and robotics. Students who master such courses return to high school feeling proud, focused, and motivated to achieve. Often, the courses they take can be turned into college credits when they enroll in a four-year program.

Mary: Playing to Her Strength

Mary was a solid student, but she never put in the effort needed to make her a candidate for the highly selective college she wanted. She was an excellent writer, however, and signed up for creative writing classes at Harvard’s Secondary School Program.

There she took part in writing workshops, mingled with authors, and was rewarded with straight A’s. The next year at school, Mary was on fire. With outstanding senior grades and Harvard A’s on her transcript, Mary was accepted to Duke University, the school of her choice.

Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, and other top-flight colleges open their gates to high school students in the summer. Some run programs specifically for high schoolers, while others welcome them into classes with college students.

David: Building a Bridge

David was a bright student with a checkered transcript — all A’s and F’s. His junior year was a disaster, and his college applications were rejected.

But David would not give up. That summer, he enrolled at the local community college, where he gained valuable study skills. He thought he’d enjoy computer science. Instead, he discovered a talent for creative writing. By the end of the fall term, he had amassed the grades to gain admission to a four-year college.

Beginning your college career at a community college has many advantages. Classes are often smaller and less academically challenging than at a four-year college, allowing you to make the transition to higher learning in a low-pressure setting. You can use the summer to get a head start on core-curriculum requirements — credits are usually transferable to other colleges. And, since you’ll be living at home, you’ll have time to get into the rhythm of college academics before heading for the freedom of campus life.

If you’re in a situation like David’s, summer college courses give you a chance to show that you can turn your grades around. Some students reapply to college after a successful summer, hoping for spring admittance; others aim for the following fall.