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Need to Get Into College? Try ADHD!

Furious Seasons brings us this advice column where a concerned parent is asking about her daughter’s desire to be diagnosed with ADHD to help her get into college:

[… Y]ou can imagine my surprise when she asked that I take her to the doctor to get a prescription for ADHD medication. I was blown away.

She says many “smart” parents have their children tested and diagnosed with attention deficit disorders so the students have the advantage of prescription medicine and un-timed standardized tests.

Is this really a trend in education?

Dr. Yvonne Fournier, who writes the advice column for the Scripps Howard News Service, notes that it is a growing trend amongst high school students looking for an “edge” to get into competitive colleges. A high or even perfect GPA is no longer enough. The competition is fierce and students are looking for ways to try and circumvent the system a little by claiming “disability” where none exists.

But the gains that are achieved from stimulant medications often prescribed in ADHD (and other possible allowances, such as untimed test) are not automatic. This article describes how disclosing a disability may actually be a liability, as colleges could potentially see such students as requiring more work and attention (even if, by law, they are not allowed to consider such disabilities in their application process; they still do).

Once a student has an ADHD label, they may be surprised at how much it follows them throughout school, and even life too. It may even follow them to graduate school, if they choose to go that route, and what was once something used to the student’s advantage may end up becoming a liability on the student’s academic record.

Dr. Fournier’s advice is good, too:

Talk to your daughter and explain to her that this scenario is no different from a student-athlete taking steroids to increase physical performance.

Just like steroids, ADHD drugs will not magically provide the skills needed for success in school and life. Any perceived benefits from these drugs are fleeting, and long-term success is rooted in hard work and dedication.

Like with steroids, there can be serious side effects from these medications, and these attention-deficit drugs can sometimes cause results very opposite from those intended. Potential side effects include hyper-focusing, headaches and stomachaches. Even worse, some students become psychologically dependent on the medication, believing it is a solution for all difficult situations. This “quick solution” could turn into a long-term addiction.

Ask your daughter about her willingness to jeopardize her health to gain a perceived advantage of immediate results. It amazes me that some of the best students are lured by this siren song. It is evident by her grade-point average that your daughter is a bright, successful student. She possesses the ability to succeed on her own, but the stress and demands of our society tell her that is not enough.

Explain to your daughter that she can gain an advantage in life with good decision-making skills, a positive attitude and a well-rounded perspective. These advantages will take her further in life with a lasting impact more than any medication could ever afford.

Of course, at the end of the day, once a teen turns 18, they’re a legal adult and can make their own decisions about medications and such. The risks of taking stimulant medications are fairly low and many students are seeing these kinds of medications as giving them a much-needed edge in academic work.

I’m not sure it’s so easy for a teen to see the larger picture, or health concerns, when the pressure for them to get into a good college and perform while there can be so intense in some families…

Need to Get Into College? Try ADHD!

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Need to Get Into College? Try ADHD!. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Apr 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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