ADHD in College

Taking ADHD Co-Ed

College is a major shift for anyone, but especially if ADHD is also thrown into the mix. Learn how setting a place and time to study, and staying on top of your diet, exercise, and medication can help.

Four college students with ADHD study together in the library.
Four college students with ADHD study together in the library.

College is a major challenge for many people with ADHD, as it was for me. Even students with straight As in high school often have difficulty making the transition. College is the wild, wild west for us. There’s little structure, less accountability, and many competing interests, such as friends, extracurricular activities, and social and academic events.

To succeed, we must stack the deck in our favor by organizing our lives in a way that is effective for our studies. Here’s what helped me succeed in college and graduate school.

Build a Routine

Waiting to do homework when there’s more time rarely works, because there’s never enough time! We try to put out one fire after the next, and, sooner or later, we will sacrifice one class in favor of another. Scheduling a set time and day for specific subjects eliminates this problem.

1. Where to study. It’s critical to know where we will be most effective at studying and doing homework. Try studying away from home or the dorm, where there are fewer distractions. For some, a white-noise environment, such as a library cubicle, works best. Others need the hustle-bustle of, say, a coffee shop to keep from zoning out.

You may find it difficult to get out of your room or house. If so, outsmart yourself! Plan studying times with friends or classmates. Anything to get you out and studying can help. I coached one student who had trouble getting out of his room to schedule lab projects in the science building. Because he was already in the building, he would go to the science library to study.

2. When to study. We often put off the most difficult things until last, so we approach them when we’re too exhausted to do them well. Instead, we should front-load things. Find the time of day when you’re freshest, and schedule the hardest work for then.

Studying or doing assignments the night before class is a good review strategy. You’re not procrastinating, but keeping things fresh in your mind. It makes you more productive in class and helps you better understand the material.

Take Care of Yourself

The amount of time spent studying doesn’t matter as much as the quality of time. You must be well-rested and in top physical and mental shape to make the grade.

3. Diet: I used to crash and burn in my MBA classes, which were four hours long. As it turned out, much of my mental fog was related to diet. I’d have a soda or candy bar before class and feel charged up and ready to go. But then my blood sugar would crash. I changed my diet to include more protein. The food kept me alert during class and energetic afterward.

4. Exercise: You’ve heard it before: Aerobic exercise – even 20 minutes a day, three days a week – will improve mental stamina. The brain chemicals released during exercise help increase focus. You’ll turn out higher quality work in a shorter time.

5. Meds: Take them. It’s critical that you’re focused when studying and doing homework, as well as when you’re in class. Set alarms to remind yourself to take meds on schedule. For me, a reminder on my e-mail program did the trick. Do whatever works.