ADHD in College

13 Survival Tips from College Graduates with ADHD

College is not a time to wait and see what happens. It is a time to plan, prepare, and anticipate every conceivable ADHD-related challenge. Begin by following these guidelines for teens leaving the house and living independently for the first time. They could save you a lot of anguish — and money.

A young adult with ADHD studying for college using ADHD-friendly tips
Girl in red shirt studying or writing
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Wait and See

College is not like high school. The demands on time, lack of a daily routine, and countless party and activity options can easily unsettle and distract students with ADHD. Take a month's pass on all extracurricular activities until you are sure your school challenges are manageable. It's easy to get into academic jeopardy in college, given the the fast pace of classes and the limited number of grades you can earn.

A college student reading study tips on a public bulletin board
College student with blond hair and red shirt
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Build Your Own Support System

College is a unique time and a challenge for everyone. Putting together a support system for when things get tough can be a life-saver. Find someone in the disabilities office who you can talk with about academic snafus. Hire a coach or talk with a campus counselor when you feel overwhelmed by your workload or campus life. Befriend someone in the on-campus health clinic that you can visit for med checks or health challenges.

A student making a med plan with her doctor, an important tip for college survival.
Doctor talking to college student about medication
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Make a Med Plan

Managing meds is one of the biggest challenges college students with ADHD face. Decide which doctor you'll use to manage your meds. If your pediatrician has been managing it, or if you are attending an out-of-state college, transfer your care locally. Call the college health center to see if they will handle it for you. Once you know your schedule, develop a plan with your doctor that includes optimum coverage for classes, studying, and extracurricular activities.

A college student discusses medication schedules with his doctor, a good college survival tip.
College student talks with a doctor
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Set Up a Medication Schedule

Before you leave for college, design and practice a strategy to remember to take medication and to refill your prescription in a timely way. Watches, apps, and smartphone alarms can help you remember when to take a dose. Find a pharmacy near school, and call ahead to see if they have a reminder system for refills.

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Store Meds Safely

Develop a fail-proof plan to store your meds. Think about putting them in a locked metal box that you place in your desk or dresser. Talk with your doctor or the on-campus health clinic for storage ideas. Think twice about placing meds in a backpack. If you lose your stimulant, most doctors won’t automatically give you more because it’s a controlled substance.

A good college tip is to write all important deadlines and chores down, like this student is doing.
Hand writing in planner with pencil
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Put It in Writing

In college, you can't keep everything — deadlines, dates, chores — in your head as you did in high school. Put your schedule in writing or program reminders into your smartphone. List everything you do — wake up, eat breakfast, take meds, go to class — then give each activity a time slot. Remember to include time for recreation. Prioritize important activities. If you have a big paper due tomorrow, working on it takes precedence over doing laundry.

College student with ADHD de-cluttering her dorm room, boxing up unused items
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Keep a Lid on Clutter

Staying on top of your papers takes a lot of your time, but things will go easier if you practice some basic clutter control. To figure out what’s essential and what’s clutter, go through everything, recycle unimportant papers, and box up the items you don’t use at least once a week. Keep the boxes in a closet. Give your desk the same treatment. Store supplies you use frequently in drawers, and pack the rest away. Work with an ADHD coach or ask an organized buddy for help.

teenager boy helping around the house, doing laundry
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Sharpen Your Life Skills

A lot of tasks that you may have taken for granted — doing laundry, shopping for groceries, balancing your checkbook — will fall in your lap in college. Ask your parents or an ADHD coach to help you practice and master these basic skills a year before starting college. If you just started classes and find these tasks challenging, talk with the disabilities department to find out if there are on-campus volunteers to assist you.

A college student with ADHD sorting her money, a smart tip for young adults
Money on the counter, hand
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Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

Money management challenges are common for college students, not to mention adults, with ADHD. Try these dollar-and-sense tips:

  • Practice sticking to a weekly budget by using a color-coded envelope system. Set aside transportation money in a red envelope, entertainment money in a blue envelope, and so on.
  • Set up an online bank account that will pay your bills. You'll avoid late fees, and you can check your balance daily.
  • Switch to cash for purchases. Paper bills allow students with ADHD to see concretely how much money they have.
College student laying on the grass, listening to calming music to stay relaxed
Girl in pink sweater or shirt lying on grass next to laptop computer
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Get the Upper Hand on Stress

Life is stressful at college — trying to make friends, keeping up with deadlines, getting distracted by all the activities. So when you feel overwhelmed and tense, try these calm-down tips:

  • Set a timer, and allow yourself to worry as you write down your concerns. When the timer rings, move on.
  • Breathe in slowly to a count of eight, hold it for a count of four, breathe out slowly to a count of eight. Repeat three or four times.
Group of college students eating together and discussing college survival tips
Group of college students eating and laughing together
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Make Food Your Friend

Vending machines full of junk food, late-night takeout, drinking a pot of coffee during an all-nighter — the obstacles to eating wisely are many. But you can do it.

  • Enroll in a meal plan or make a "date" to meet with a group of friends so you won't skip meals.
  • Include lean protein — chicken, fish, tofu — in each meal. Protein helps sustain focus.
  • Eat breakfast. Studies show that the first meal of the day helps you pay attention in class and prevents you from bingeing later on.
A college student getting some sleep, a common tip for new students
Girl taking a nap on brightly lit bed in college dorm
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Get Enough Down Time

College life is at odds with getting enough sleep — dorm parties and chatty roommates can make it tough. Set up a sleep routine that works for you.

  • Don't drink coffee or tea later than 2 in the afternoon.
  • Make sure you don't take ADHD medication late in the day.
  • Select a time for lights out and set a timer to remind yourself.
  • Take a hot shower to relax — it will save you time in the morning.
  • Hang a sign on your door at bedtime that reads, “We’re closed. Come back another time.”
A girl running during a break from college classes
Girl running on track in pink shirt
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Don't Forget About Exercise

You might not think you can fit  physical activity into your hectic schedule, but doing so will help you stay focused and positive. Exercise not only boosts the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain but also reduces anxiety and stress. Even throwing a Frisbee, taking a 10-minute walk, or doing some jumping jacks, lunges, squats, or push-ups can help. Join a team or enlist an exercise buddy if you need the extra motivation.