ADHD in College

Yes, You Can Get ADHD Accommodations In College

A step-by-step guide for securing and using academic accommodations for your ADHD in higher education.

High school students with ADHD discussing class tests at diner
High school students with ADHD discussing class tests at diner

The car is packed, you’ve synced your phone and downloaded new music for the drive ahead. You’ve even logged in to the online bookstore to order the semester’s required textbooks. But if you are a freshman or a returning student, and you have ADHD, LD, or any other disability, you need to make one more important preparation: Make sure you have academic accommodations in place for college.

How do you know if you need or qualify for accommodations? First, you need to have a documented disability. That could be ADHD, a learning disability, or any other medical, emotional, or physical condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including learning or concentration.

If you have had a Section 504 Plan or an IEP in high school, you almost certainly will continue to need the accommodations they provided. If you didn’t have a 504 Plan or IEP, you may qualify for accommodations if you can provide documentation of a disability.

Your high school 504 or IEP, however, will not be sufficient documentation. Most colleges (some community colleges are exceptions) want to see a written diagnosis from your physician or psychologist, stating that you have a disability and explaining how that disability will impact such aspects of learning as following class lectures, reading, note taking, writing, or test-taking.

Likewise, if you have anxiety, a mood disorder, or any other mental or physical condition that will affect your learning, mobility, or any other aspect of your education, you should provide documentation of that. It is not uncommon for students to have ADHD plus another disability, and your documentation should mention all areas in which you will need accommodation.

Your documentation should be up to date. Each college has its own guidelines for how recent documentation needs to be for each kind of disability, but three years is a general rule of thumb for most conditions. You need to check with your college’s Office of Disability Services (they often have a separate page on the college website) for their documentation guidelines and instructions for submitting documentation. For freshmen, this should be done in advance of the start of school. Once you decided where you will enroll and sent in your deposit, your next step should be to contact the Office of Disability Services and get started on providing suitable documentation.

No matter how much of the preliminary work toward getting accommodations is done online, the most important step in this process is a face-to-face meeting with your assigned Disability Counselor. Incoming freshmen will discuss what accommodations they are seeking and what has worked for them in the past. The Counselor will explain what the school has available — note takers, organizational coaches, tutors, writing labs, and software and other technology — and together the student and Counselor will come up with a list of accommodations that should enable the student to access all aspects of their college education.

Both freshmen and returning students need to remember that this initial list of accommodations is not set in stone. Students should meet regularly with their Counselor to discuss what is working and what needs to be changed. This is best done before serious academic trouble arises. It is never possible to go back and “erase” a failing course grade because a student didn’t ask for, or use, certain accommodations.

The responsibility for identifying whether a student needs accommodations, providing documentation of a disability, and meeting with the Office of Disability Services is up to the student, not the college. Students need to make sure that each of their professors has a copy of their disability accommodations and, for students with the common accommodation of extended exam time and a quiet test location, that they remind their professors in advance of every exam about their need for such accommodations.

All of this takes lots of organization and planning, skills that college students with ADHD often find hard to apply. Breaking this process into individual steps, asking for help from your Disability Counselor, and meeting with your professors to let them know about your accommodations can go a long way toward putting your accommodations to work for you.

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