How to Deal with ADHD in College

Three Methods:Getting into a Good SchoolStudying and SucceedingManaging the Disorder

College is a big step. It takes a lot of effort, organization, and focus to do well and have a great academic career. This comes as an even bigger challenge to people who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you have ADHD, however, you can take steps to get into the right school, continue to manage your disorder, and study and succeed.

Method 1
Getting into a Good School

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    Pick out supportive colleges. As a student with ADHD, you’ll face a lot of challenges in college. Think about these challenges and how you can best manage them before you’ve gotten there, when you’re first applying to schools. Research and look for colleges that have resources and offer a supportive environment.[1]
    • Think about things like class size, workload, the academic calendar, and available support services. What are your needs? Will you do better with smaller classes, for example? Try writing these things out in a list.
    • Start to do research. Try setting up an appointment with your school guidance counselor and asking about ADHD-friendly colleges, for one.
    • You might also search national ADHD organization websites for suggestions or google “ADHD-friendly colleges.” Many schools have special programs, like the University of Arizona or Augsburg College. Others like Beacon College in Florida and Landmark College in Vermont are dedicated to students with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities.[2]
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    Disclose your ADHD on applications. Be strategic when you put together your college applications. For one thing, it may be a good idea to be upfront about your disability. Students with ADHD in high school can struggle, which gets reflected in your transcript. Disclosing your disability will help the college understand your situation.[3]
    • Applications usually leave a blank space for explaining poor grades, absences, or other issues. You can use this to disclose your ADHD, e.g. “As you can see, my grades increased a lot between 2014 and 2016, after I was first diagnosed with ADHD.”
    • You might alternatively write a longer letter or even mention your struggles in your admissions essay. Focus on how you overcame your academic troubles and improved, once your ADHD was diagnosed and brought under control.
    • Explain your accommodations in high school, too. For example, say if you had a waiver for things like language classes — colleges might see gaps in your transcripts and misinterpret them.
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    Focus on your strengths. You definitely have academic strengths if you’re applying for college. Still, there are probably some subjects that you don’t do as well in, like math or foreign languages. Keep in mind that you may need to compensate in your strengths to make up for these weaknesses. Doing so will improve your chance of acceptance.[4]
    • Look honestly at your grades from high school. Are there any big holes? Did you fail a math class, for instance, or get poor grades in science? Now consider your strengths, like your top marks in English and history.
    • Find ways to make your strengths stand out even more. For example, think about taking Advanced Placement courses in your best subjects. If your strength is art or music, put together a strong portfolio of your work.
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    Consider starting at community college. It's very common to spend a year or two at community college before transferring to a four-year school. Not only is this often a money-saver, it can also give you an opportunity to prove yourself in subjects you may have struggled with in high school. Consider going to community college for a year or two, taking classes that will allow you to get some of the core requirements of a four-year college out of the way. Taking your time like this can really help you fully concentrate on subjects and raise your grades high enough to get into the college of your choice.
    • This can be especially helpful if you're not sure what you want to study. Instead of spending a few (expensive) years at a four-year school trying to figure out your major, you can take time to grow and figure out what you want to do, as well as your strengths and challenges as a student.[5]
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    Take a gap year to strengthen your file. Another way to be more competitive for college is to get some life experience. If you’re able, a gap year of working, traveling, or volunteering can do this. College admissions often favor students who have non-academic as well as academic skills and can bring different perspectives.[6]
    • Young people often use gap years to travel abroad. This time can help you get a better sense of what your strengths and passions are, how you want to use your skills, and what you’d like to study in college. You can also gain valuable exposure to other cultures and languages.
    • You might also consider spending a gap year serving the community with a volunteer organization, like Americorps, Habitat for Humanity, or the Peace Corps.

Method 2
Studying and Succeeding

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    Go to class. College will be different from what you’re used to in high school. For one, your teachers will leave it to you to attend class and often won’t be there to remind you. It’s important for all students to attend regularly. It’s even more key for students with ADHD.[7]
    • Keep in mind that part of your grade is college is usually linked to attendance. You will automatically lose this part of this mark if you skip.
    • Skipping may also make your professors less apt to help you. If you show up regularly, on the other hand, they will see your dedication and will usually be willing to help.
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    Consider recording lectures. College is really fast paced, and it can be challenging for people when their mind wanders. Recording the session or even taking photos of the blackboard, in addition to taking notes, are useful tools for students with ADHD.
    • Talk to your professor before recording her lectures, as there are likely policies about when this is allowed.
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    Use planners, calendars, or scheduling apps. People with ADHD can find it hard to plan and have trouble remembering dates or assignments. But the need to manage your time will only increase in college. Avoid issues with organization by keeping your schedule written down. Plan things ahead — in writing — so that you can structure your school life.[8][9]
    • Buy a planner or calendar or download a scheduling app for your phone. Get into the habit of entering due dates for assignments into your schedule.
    • Your course syllabi should contain big dates for exams, quizzes, and important assignments. Enter these into your planner as soon as you can.
    • Make sure to check your planner everyday to see what you have coming up. Keep your planner somewhere you will see it, like on your desk or on the wall. If you have a scheduling app, you can program it to send you pop-up reminders.
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    Avoid distractions. College campuses are full of all sorts of activities. This is good and gives you the chance to explore and grow. But, it’s also tempting. Students with ADHD often have to work hard to get good results, so it’s important that you prioritize your work. You should still have fun, but try to save it as a reward.[10]
    • Train yourself to work first and relax later. Try making a list of your goals and why it's important you get your work done and do well, and refer to it when you're feeling unmotivated or tempted to blow off work. Try to find quiet places to study where you will won’t be tempted by distractions. Look for a quiet nook in the library stacks, for example.
    • Turn off your phone or put it somewhere you can't see it while you're studying. Promise yourself you will check it once you have completed your task.
    • Consider installing software on your computer to help minimize distractions. For instance, "Stay Focused" is an extension for the Google Chrome web browser which allows you to set limits on how long you can spend on certain websites each day. Maybe you need to block social media sites during the hours you know you will be studying, or allow yourself only 10 minutes every day to use sites that are distracting. Using this type of software can remove the temptation and you won't have to rely on your own willpower to resist.
    • Think twice about drinking. People with ADHD have a greater risk for alcoholism and for using alcohol to “self-medicate.” Consider avoiding situations with heavy drinking, like joining a fraternity. It might even be best to avoid drinking entirely.[11]
  5. 5
    Manage stress. College is a stressful time even if you don't have ADHD, and unmanaged stress can cause ADHD symptoms to get worse.[12] You may experience stress because you are unable to focus or filter outside stimuli, or from anxiety caused by a heavy workload, approaching deadlines and tests, or procrastinating. Notice if, during periods of high stress, you are having more difficulty focusing or you are more hyperactive than normal.[13] Finding ways to manage your stress and increase your threshold for handling stress will help you succeed in college with ADHD.
    • Exercise daily, if possible. It's likely there is a workout facility on campus available for students, making it easy to incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine. Working out is a great way to expend excess energy and aggression and is thought to be extremely beneficial for those with ADHD. It can also boost your mood by releasing endorphins and is known to help manage stress.[14]
    • Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation makes concentration harder and can worsen your ADHD symptoms. Try not to drink coffee or other caffeinated products after noon, stick to predictable sleep and wake times, and make a bedtime routine for yourself (this may include a warm shower, reading a book, or other relaxing activities). Aim for at least eight hours per night and see the campus counselor if you’re having trouble sleeping.[15]
    • Listen to your body. Overlooking stress can lead to problems down the line, so pay attention to your body and notice signs that you are stressed out so you can do something that de-stresses you. Notice things like grinding teeth or clenching your jaw, chewing your nails, an upset stomach, or a tight neck and back — these can all be signs that you are stressed and need to practice some self-care.[16]
    • Consider strategies like meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing, which can be performed almost anywhere for stress relief. Breathing deeply in the few minutes before class begins may make a world of difference.
    • Work on worrisome thoughts. The stress and worry that often go hand-in-hand with ADHD can quickly elevate to serious anxiety if left unchecked. Try to tackle worrisome thoughts before they get out of control. One method is to set a 10-minute worry period for each day. Write down what is worrying you throughout the day and promise yourself you'll think about it during your designated worry period. Each time the thought creeps into your head, just tell yourself, "Nope, I'm not thinking about that until 7:30." This can help free you from those worries.[17]
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    Be proactive to get help. College can be very difficult. You’ll find the workload, the material, and the demands on your time much greater than high school. Since you’ve got the added challenge of ADHD, be ready to seek out help if you start to struggle. Don’t wait until a crisis. The sooner you get help, the better.[18]
    • You should make sure to enroll in Student Disability Services before or as soon as you arrive on campus. They will help you get accommodations, like extra time for tests and assignments.
    • Talk to your professors and tutorial leaders early on. Let them know that you have a learning disability (you don’t have to offer details) so that you can work together to get on track, if a problem arises.
    • Reach out as soon as you realize that you’re struggling. There is not much professors can do to help if you wait until the end of the semester.
    • If you are having difficulties keeping up, consider becoming a part-time student. You can use this extra time to develop good learning, organizing, and studying habits. Talk to your academic advisor about your options.

Method 3
Managing the Disorder

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    Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor before going to college about how best to deal with your symptoms. She can advise you on your meds and help to coordinate with new doctors at the school. Keep in mind that you may need to continue getting ADHD meds from your original doctor, as some university health centers will not prescribe them.[19]
    • Ask your doctor for a history of your medicines and your response to them, to provide to any new doctors.
    • Contact your campus health center to see whether they prescribe ADHD meds, too, so that you have an uninterrupted supply. Some do not offer them because of issues with abuse.
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    Apply for accommodations. People with learning disabilities like ADHD have different classroom needs. You may need more time for tests and assignments. You may need more time to process information in class. For this reason, and to level the playing field, you probably qualify for special accommodations. Be sure to take advantage of these.[20]
    • Apply for accommodations soon after you’re accepted. Go to the college website and look for the school’s “Learning Services” or “Disability Services” page. You can also try to search for “office of disability services” or “student disabilities.”
    • Learning Services will tell you what you need to provide them to qualify. This might include a report from a doctor about your testing and ADHD diagnosis, your Individual Education Program or IEP from high school, and a list of requested accommodations, e.g. more time for tests, recording lectures, help taking notes, etc.
    • Talk to your doctor about getting reassessed to increase your chances of success. For instance, a person with ADHD might not do well on multiple choice exams, but might do better in essay classes. Think about what classes you did well on and why, and then work on getting the school to cooperate to accommodate you.
    • You might not feel comfortable with accommodations but think of it this way — it’s better to have them and not use them than to need them but not have them.
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    Don’t abuse your medication. Your meds are supposed to manage your ADHD symptoms. It can be dangerous to misuse them, skip doses, or stop taking them altogether. Using your medications in a way that’s not prescribed can also disrupt your sleep schedule or even make it harder to concentrate in the long run.[21]
    • Resist the temptation to use your own ADHD meds as a study aid, to help you cram before a test or exam.
    • Also know that ADHD abuse is rising at colleges and that selling or giving away your prescription meds is illegal. In fact, Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance — the same as cocaine. Selling it (and perhaps even trading or giving it away) is a felony.[22]
    • Other than being illegal, selling or giving away your meds leaves you short on doses and will erode your ability to function.

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Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders | Campus Life