ADHD in College

Keep Up with College Academics

College — it’s a whole new academic challenge. Are you ready to manage classes, homework, and tests when you roll onto campus?

Select the right classes and lectures in college for success
Select the right classes and lectures in college for success

You did it! You’ve joined the growing number of teens with ADHD/LD who are attending college and finding success. It’s understandable if you have concerns about the challenges ahead. You know college is not high school, and learning to live on your own without the familiar structure of high school, and with no adult supervision, is a new experience. Through many conversations with learning-challenged students, I’ve learned what they wish they’d known when they started, as well as what helped them succeed.


WRITE DOWN HOW YOUR LEARNING DIFFERENCES WILL AFFECT YOU. It’s the norm, not the exception, to experience academic challenges in college. The hard truth is that students with learning differences experience even more struggles. Do you know how your differences might impact you in college? Many teens haven’t given this much thought because of their success in high school. Some students don’t realize that their differences were hidden by the support provided by teachers and parents. Others don’t accept their differences because they don’t want to stand out among their peers. Talk with your parents and consider asking their advice for coming up with a “game plan.” How might they coach you as you figure things out?

TAKE A SUMMER COURSE. So-called “summer bridge” programs, or special transition programs for ADHD and LD students, allow you to get acclimated to the environs and connected to resources. These programs give kids the reference points they need when they start in the fall.

USE A CALENDAR TO MAP OUT THE SEMESTER. Professors don’t typically remind students of deadlines. They expect students to visit the course website and look at the syllabus. Print out all your subject syllabi in the first two weeks of the new semester, and write down the due dates for all tests, papers, and big deadlines — also include big social events, like rushing a fraternity or sorority or football games — in a master calendar. This way you can see the tough weeks coming ahead of time, when you might have two papers due and two tests to take.

LEARN ABOUT AND CONNECT WITH ACADEMIC RESOURCES ON CAMPUS. Research suggests that less than a third of students who received help in high school use campus supports during their transition to college. Did you know that your chances of succeeding academically will increase if you use resources? Taking a “wait and see” approach can backfire in college. Veteran students warn that it’s easy to get into academic jeopardy, given the fast pace of college classes and limited number of grades you can earn. A common tip from experienced college students with ADHD/LD is not to wait until you “hit the wall” to look for and get support.

SELECT CLASSES THAT SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS. The class schedule that is typical for new students might not work for you. Are there too many courses matched to your weaknesses? Do your classes have tests, papers, both? Try checking each course’s website before classes begin. After attending class, you’ll know more. Are there too many reading assignments, given how slowly you read? If math, foreign language, and science are challenging for you, should you take them all in the same semester? Could you transfer to other sections with fewer students or that are taught at a better time for your medication schedule?

LIMIT THE NUMBER OF COURSES YOU TAKE. Many college students with ADHD/LD take the fewest classes possible for a full-time student. This allows them to better manage the workload and still have time for life. Typically, they have to make up credits by attending summer school, but they say that it is worth it.

CREATE A SYSTEM TO KEEP TRACK OF IMPORTANT DUE DATES, DEADLINES, AND DAILY PLANS. Many new college students say they could keep everything in their heads in high school with few problems. They quickly discover that this doesn’t work anymore. In college, your daily schedule will vary and there will be large chunks of unstructured time during the day. Figuring out an effective system for tracking and planning your time will be critical to your success. Program reminders into your iPhone or Android device to keep yourself on track. If you tend to misplace your phone, write everything down on a large wall calendar or whiteboard.

RETHINK HOMEWORK. If something is assigned in a college class, it is considered homework and you are responsible for it, even if it is not collected or graded as it was in high school. The first graded quiz, test, or paper might not occur for weeks or even months into the semester. Most midterm or final exams cover weeks of content, including what was taught in class and what you were assigned. Catching up right before an exam is impossible. Using the unstructured times between classes is a more effective way to stay ahead. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes before each class to prepare, and the same amount of time after class, to review or memorize what was taught.

ASK QUESTIONS AND FIND THE RIGHT STUDY APPROACH FOR YOU. It takes time and thought to figure out what works best for you. Here are some questions to start the process:

> Where can you best study and get things done? Can you study in your room? Or in the library? Or do you study better by yourself in a coffee shop or in the dorm lounge?

> Does sitting for long periods work for you? Taking breaks to move or working while standing can improve attention and learning for those with attention problems. Some colleges have treadmill desks, so that students can walk while they are studying.

> What are the best times for you to study? Can you read at night when the dorm is quiet and you are using your laptop? When you do, are you learning anything? Would waking up an hour earlier be better? Does exercising before you study help?

> How do you learn best? Can you understand what you read, or would listening simultaneously to an audio version work better? Should you take notes in class, tape your lectures, or do both? Does writing help you memorize, or does it help to teach the material to someone else?

> Are you distracted by your phone and Facebook? What will help you stay focused? Can you really keep your phone with you? Some students turn their phones off or don’t take them to class. However, you may need your phone or another tech tool to help you do work in class.

MAKE SELF-CARE A PRIORITY. Many students with ADHD discover that they cannot ignore their physical and emotional well-being. Maybe you already know how critical sleep, eating, daily recreation, exercise, and down time are to your focus. Many college students “burn the candle at both ends,” but an unbalanced approach to life makes it impossible for those with ADHD/LD to perform well.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE COLLEGE-READY. Many students are blind-sided more by daily living demands than by academic challenges. Can you wash and care for your own clothes? Take your medication and call the doctor for appointments? Do you know when to go to sleep? Can you organize your room with few or no reminders? Can you awaken yourself each day and get out the door on your own? If you have several months left before you start college, practice these life skills at home. Have a coach or your parents gauge your progress.

Updated on September 26, 2017

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