ADHD College

Thriving in College with ADHD: Essential Tips and Strategies

College success with ADHD involves understanding and managing symptoms, utilizing academic accommodations, and developing strong time management and organizational skills. Students with ADHD can reach out for academic support, embrace ADHD coaching, and use resources like cognitive behavioral therapy and ADHD medications when needed. Adopting these strategies can significantly improve academic performance and overall college experience for students with ADHD.

Published on
Updated on
estimated reading time

Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

Reviewed by

In this Article

Reviewed by

A word form our expert

The ADHD College Playbook: Unique Strategies for Unique Minds

Are you heading off to college or already there and struggling to manage your ADHD symptoms? 👀 If so, you're not alone - many of us find it challenging to juggle college alongside our diagnosis. But despite how it might feel, it doesn't have to be a constant struggle, and I'm here to show you how I've tackled my own ADHD challenges in the world of college and university. 💕

I’ll tell you all about:

  • The distinct challenges and changes before and after my ADHD diagnosis, and how understanding ADHD symptoms can transform the college experience.

  • How ADHD impacts executive functioning, attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, emotional sensitivity, and sensory issues, and their effects on learning and social interactions in college.

  • Practical tips for managing time to improve punctuality and academic performance.

  • How to select the right college for neurodiverse students, when to set up necessary support, and the importance of building a supportive social network.

  • What the legal obligations of colleges are in terms of providing reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities like ADHD, and which specific accommodations that can support you in achieving academic success.

So, wherever you are in your college journey, dive into this article for practical tips, advice, and relatable stories to show you how to thrive in any learning environment and achieve whatever you put your mind to. 💪

I love to learn. 😍Over the years, I’ve dabbled in everything from literature to neuroscience. But looking back, my college days before and after getting my ADHD diagnosis are entirely different stories. 

For example, my undergraduate degree took an exhausting five years, complete with two year-long mental health breaks. 🤯Despite the struggles and top grades, I ended up with total burnout from masking my ADHD and trying to keep up with everyone else. Then, post-diagnosis, everything clicked - and ultimately, changed for the better. 😁

Since then, I've earned my post-graduate diploma and am now thriving in my master's program, staying on top of deadlines with newfound confidence. How? The first step was understanding exactly how my symptoms affected my overall college experience - academically, socially and practically. Let’s explore a few of the most common ones. 👇

Why Do So Many Students With ADHD Struggle At College?

 ADHD can significantly affect academic performance at university due to the unique way in which our symptoms can affect our learning experience.

While each person is different, here are a few key symptoms and traits that impact many of us:

  • Issues With Executive Functioning: Challenges in organizing, planning, working memory and poor time management can affect the ability to keep up with the academic workload.

  • Inattention: Struggling to stay focused during lectures and study sessions, leading to gaps in learning and understanding.

  • Impulsivity: Making hasty decisions without fully considering the consequences, such as resisting the temptation to skip class. This can impact academic choices, attendance and interactions.

  • Hyperactivity: Excessive energy that can be disruptive and make it hard to stay engaged in academic settings when we lose interest or need to sit still for long periods.

  • Rejection Sensitivity: Intense emotional reactions to criticism or perceived rejection can affect the academic and social aspects of college life.

  • Overstimulation and Sensory Issues: Struggles with the busy, stimulating university environment, leading to difficulties in concentration and participation.

How I Navigate College With ADHD 

One of my ongoing battles at university has been punctuality and organization, or the lack of it. 😬Thanks to my tendency to lose track of time, I was always consistently late for those early morning lectures. Not only did it draw unwanted attention, but it also disrupted the class flow. I desperately needed to break this frustrating cycle.

To get on top of this, I added a simple buffer to my routine. Now, before heading to university, I give myself an extra 15 minutes, which is the average amount of time I'd usually be late for class. This cushion accounts for unexpected delays and gives me a sense of calm, meaning I arrive ready to focus and learn. 🤓 I also spend ten minutes the night before class preparing for the day; I set aside my outfit for the day and pack a small bag of healthy snacks and drinks to keep me going throughout lectures.

Another time-related challenge I've struggled with was underestimating the time needed for assignments. I used to think I could whip up a brilliant essay or project overnight - but reality had other plans. 😂Last-minute rushes resulted in a flurry of mistakes and missing important details, not to mention messing up my sleep cycle. 😴

When it comes to assignments, I've become more methodical. Instead of leaving everything to the last minute, I break tasks into smaller parts - research, initial drafting, editing, and proofreading. This shift lets me spread the work over 1-2 weeks, resulting in higher-quality work with less stress and fewer mistakes. ✅

I also mark important exam dates on my calendar and create a plan well in advance - regular study sessions, solo or with friends, have become my secret weapon. Consistency ensures I cover the material thoroughly and remember it better. 

Finally, during the day, I hang out with my fellow students during breaks between classes, which satisfies my need for social interaction and acts as a built-in reminder for time management. When I see my friends heading back to class, it's my cue to follow suit. 🏃

These strategies have turned my organization and time management game around. While I still have occasional bad days, these adjustments have not only made me more punctual but also improved my academic performance and reduced my overall stress levels.

Visualize your ADHD traits!

Take our fun online quiz to visualize your ADHD traits and learn more about your brain!


How To Develop A Supportive College Environment

Finding, starting and finishing college when you have ADHD can be pretty challenging and unpredictable, but with the right support and guidance, it can also be a rewarding, exciting time. Let's talk about how I built my support network in college and discuss some strategies you might find helpful. 👇

Choosing the Right College

Selecting the right college for me took a lot of detective work; I scoured websites looking for clues about their approach to neurodiversity. When I found my current university openly discussing ADHD on their website, it was like striking gold! 🌟 My college had a page dedicated to student support for neurodiverse students, which was a huge confidence booster. It reassured me that this time around, my college experience would be different from the first - I'd go into it armed with a diagnosis, an understanding of my neurodiversity, and a knowledgeable, supportive team on campus. 

Attending Open Days

Attending open days and chatting with staff about potential ADHD support was incredibly helpful. Don't be shy about this! It's important to know what kind of support they offer, like allowing the recording of lectures, extending loan periods for books, or providing extended deadlines when needed. These little adjustments can make a big difference in your college experience. 

Setting Up Support Right Away

Once I got my place, one of the first things I did was meet with an academic advisor within the student support team. They helped me craft a learning adjustment plan, which they sent to all my lecturers, teachers, and tutors. This step was crucial in tailoring my academic experience to suit my needs and avoiding constantly repeating myself if I was struggling with something in particular. I've not needed every adjustment on my plan - but it's been beneficial to know it's there if I do. 

Building My Circle

During small group sessions, I took a leap of faith and shared about my ADHD with other students, and I'm so glad I did. It reduced the pressure to mask my symptoms and allowed me to be more authentic. ✨ Plus, it opened the door to connect with other neurodiverse students. Finding peers who understood my struggles has been invaluable; I've noticed that many of the neurodiverse students in my course frequently offer unique and valuable perspectives, especially in my field of study.

Staying Well

Navigating college campuses and student life can take a toll on our mental and physical health, but with the right strategies, we can thrive just as much as anyone else. Building a solid social circle is crucial for this. It can be more accessible through things like extracurricular activities, which can help develop social skills and provide a healthy outlet for energy and creativity.

Adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise are vital for students with ADHD. For those on ADHD medication or other prescribed treatments, it's essential to monitor their effects regularly. Additionally, accessing support services like counseling centers on college campuses can provide effective treatment and coping strategies to keep us on track. 🥰

Effective time management skills are crucial to success in college. Students with ADHD often benefit from structured schedules and routines to manage their academic and personal responsibilities effectively without getting overwhelmed. Knowing when to study, rest, and have fun is the key to enjoying college and reaching our full potential. 🌟

The Importance Of Reasonable Accommodations

In higher education, colleges and universities are legally obligated to support students with disabilities by making what are known as 'reasonable adjustments.' These adjustments aim to level the playing field, ensuring that students with disabilities like ADHD have the same access to education as their peers. 

Generally, these adjustments can include:

  • Awareness training for staff on disability equality and specific impairments.
  • Informing relevant staff and students about necessary adjustments.
  • Financial support (where possible) to cover any extra costs due to disability.
  • Additional time for coursework completion or course duration.
  • Study skills support and specific accommodation arrangements.
  • Assistance with using resource centers or libraries, like extended book loans.

ADHD-Specific Adjustments

For students with ADHD, adjustments might address challenges like concentration, hyperactivity, social interaction, arithmetic, reading, writing, spoken communication, organization, memory, sense of direction, and computer use. 

Examples include:

  • Negotiated short breaks or altered working hours.
  • Quiet workspaces or reduced noise and light distractions.
  • Flexible work-from-home arrangements if needed.
  • Access to planning and scheduling software.
  • Chairs or desks that accommodate movement.
  • Clear and specific communication from employers or staff.
  • Mind-mapping software for planning reading and writing tasks.
  • Regular reminders of important deadlines.
  • Use of mnemonic devices and digital tools for memory support.
  • Ergonomic furniture and equipment for computer work.

These adjustments intend to overcome specific challenges and facilitate a more effective learning environment, as research shows that college students with ADHD are already at a disadvantage. 👇

For example, one study in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reveals a higher likelihood of college dropouts among students with ADHD compared to a typical student without ADHD. However, this risk diminishes significantly for those who engage with support services on college campuses, such as academic advisors, counseling centers, and those who receive special accommodations.

Remember, each student's needs are unique, and the support available may differ from one college to another - but the support available will usually be available online for incoming students. The key to successful accommodation lies in open communication and a proactive approach to understanding and addressing these needs.

Can ADHD Medications Help Students With ADHD?

Deciding how to manage ADHD in college is a deeply personal choice. While some students prefer therapy, ADHD coaching, and lifestyle modifications, many others, including myself, find that stimulant medications are essential. These medications are crucial in allowing me to attend college, make new friends, manage stress, remember important dates, pay attention, and stay on top of the things I need to do to study effectively, such as taking notes and meeting deadlines. 

Before medication, like many college students with ADHD, I found myself turning to caffeine or sugar as a form of self-medication, which is a common scenario when we don't effectively manage ADHD. Research shows that many students with ADHD are more prone to self-medicate with excessive drinking and substance use, often in an attempt to improve focus, socialize easier, or cope with co-occurring mental disorders like bipolar or mood disorders. Unfortunately, these methods typically lead to more negative consequences than other students.

Therefore, for college students with ADHD, it's crucial to explore various strategies and support systems. Effective treatment often involves a combination of ADHD medications, therapy, lifestyle adjustments, consistent support from academic advisors, and access to special accommodations under the Disabilities Act. This holistic approach ensures that students can pay attention in class, keep up with coursework, and enjoy a fulfilling social life, ultimately leading to academic and personal success. 

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding how ADHD symptoms affect college life is crucial; issues with executive functioning, focus, impulsivity, hyperactivity, rejection sensitivity, and overstimulation can lead to difficulties in academic performance and social interactions at college.

  • Students with ADHD can use several strategies to manage symptoms, including:

  • Breaking down assignments into manageable parts, working backwards from important dates such as exams and deadlines, and using a buddy system for time management accountability.

  • Choosing a college that supports neurodiversity and understanding available accommodations is key. In doing so, students can engage with academic advisors and build a network of supportive peers, enhancing the college experience for students with ADHD.

  • Maintaining physical and mental health through adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and exercise, in addition to building supportive social circles and hobbies,
  • Colleges and universities are legally required to provide reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities.

Accommodations may include:

  • Regular breaks during lectures
  • Extra time during exams
  • Deadline extensions for coursework and assignments
  • Managing ADHD in college often involves exploring various treatments, including ADHD medications, which can be crucial for attending classes, managing stress, and maintaining focus.

If you have a diagnosis of ADHD, don't let the idea of college feel too out of reach; with the right strategies and support systems in place, you can not only navigate the academic challenges but also thrive and excel in this new and exciting environment. 🤩

Remember, your unique perspective and abilities can contribute significantly to your success. By embracing your ADHD, understanding your needs, and getting the proper support, college can be a rewarding journey that furthers your personal and professional growth. 🥳

What’s Next?

If you’re a college student with ADHD, you might find these related articles helpful. 👇

Essential Tools for Managing ADHD Effectively
Understanding Time Perception in ADHD: How To ManageTime Blindness

The Link Between ADHD and Procrastination

Meeting Deadlines Successfully with ADHD

Start your ADHD diagnosis journey!

Visualize and assess 25 ADHD traits and understand how they affect your life.

Learn more

ADHD and College: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

 Is college hard if you have ADHD?

College can be more challenging to some people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder compared to students who do not have a neurodevelopmental condition. The symptoms of ADHD can interfere with the student’s attention span and focus. Impulsivity can also lead them to decide badly on important matters. However, there are steps to overcome these challenges. Get in touch with a healthcare professional if you are worried. 

Do colleges care if their students have ADHD?

Many colleges care if their students have ADHD, and not in a bad way. Some require applicants to disclose any condition that might affect their academic performance. In those cases, you must disclose your ADHD diagnosis. If they do not ask for it, you may open a discussion about it particularly if you feel that you need more support in the application process. Some schools may give leeway to students with ADHD. ‍

What college is best for people with ADHD? ‍

Colleges that offer support specifically for students with ADHD are always an excellent choice. You may want to create a list and ponder on the colleges and universities with your family or friends. ‍

Share this article on Social Media

Help us raise awareness around ADHD, let's spread ADHD love and support to all that need it.

If you liked this article you are going to like these ones:

Check out more content about similar topics: