College is a big transition for any student. But when you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there are added challenges to consider. These obstacles concern everything from studying to managing your time to spending impulsively to planning your future post-college.
But by being aware of these potential problems and being proactive, students with ADHD can accomplish great things in school. Here’s how, according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a national certified counselor and licensed mental health counselor and author of Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder.
1. Apply for accommodations.
Accommodations are “specific adaptations, including extended time on tests and an assigned note taker, that give you the help you need in order to succeed.”
Accommodations don’t give students with ADHD an unfair advantage. Instead, these adaptations put you on equal footing with other students. Think of it as leveling the playing field, Sarkis said.
She suggested applying for accommodations as soon as you’re accepted into the college you’ll attend. To learn about accommodations, contact your school’s Office of Student Disability Services, which will have more information. Even better, make an appointment to visit their office during orientation, Sarkis said.
2. See a clinician in your new town.
When you go off to college, it’s important to continue seeing a local therapist who specializes in ADHD. “This helps with staying on track with medication and counseling,” Sarkis said.
Ask your current therapist for a referral. Your counseling center may have mental health professionals who treat ADHD. Or they might recommend a specialist near campus.
Importantly, “Make an appointment with the new clinician during the same time you visit for orientation.”
3. Set limits around impulsive spending.
As mentioned above, impulsive spending can become a big problem for students with ADHD. Sarkis suggested having your account at a bank that’s both close to campus and your parents’ house. Make sure your parents have access to your account so they’re able to monitor your spending.
Also helpful is reducing the number of credit cards you own and lowering your credit limit.
4. Don’t work your first year.
It can take some time to get used to college and your new busy routine. So, if possible, avoid getting a part-time job your first year. As Sarkis underscored, “College is your full-time job now.”
5. Consider your “body clock” when setting up your schedule.
One of the benefits of college is that you have a fair amount of flexibility when creating your class schedule. So think about the times of the day when you’re most alert and attentive.
“If you are a night owl, schedule your classes for the afternoon instead of early evening. If you are a morning person, schedule your classes in the morning as opposed to the afternoon,” Sarkis said.
6. Take a summer class.
Sarkis suggested taking a course at your college the summer before starting your first semester, if that’s possible. This can make for an easier transition and helps you see what college classes are really like, she said.
7. Avoid online courses.
If you have the option between a “real” class, as Sarkis put it, or the online version, pick the former. These classes provide more structure, and it’s easier to fall behind in online courses.
8. Start early.
Some professors make their course syllabus available online before the semester starts. If that’s the case for your courses, Sarkis suggested “order[ing] the textbooks and read[ing] ahead.”
9. Create a specific schedule.
College comes with many demands and staying on top of everything isn’t easy. What helps tremendously is creating structure. Create a schedule with “every half-hour blocked off [for] study time, class time [and] free time.”
Be sure to factor in breaks between study sessions. Sarkis recommended studying for 30 minutes and then taking 15-minute breaks.
10. “Have a ‘check-in’ or ‘accountability’ person.”
According to Sarkis, this person knows your assignments and “you can check in with them as you complete your assignments.” For instance, you and your parents might consider hiring an ADHD coach to fulfill this role.
11. Use your school’s resources.
Colleges offer a wealth of educational resources. So if you need extra help in a certain subject, don’t hesitate to take advantage of services like tutoring or a writing and learning center.
College presents many challenges for students with ADHD, but it also offers lots of opportunities. “Enjoy college. And remember [that], realizing that you need some additional assistance is a strength.”
ADDitude magazine offers excellent resources for succeeding in college, including:
The ADDvance website also has an important article by Dr. Patricia Quinn, M.D., on the top 10 things she wishes students with ADHD knew about taking their medications while at college.