Strategies for Surviving the First Year of College with ADHD

Research indicates that college students with ADHD have a greater chance of failing and having to retake classes, getting lower grade point averages, and leaving college without graduating than students without ADHD. This can come as a surprise to some parents. Often these same kids have done well in high school, and scored well on standardized tests. But college life, especially when it is away from home, can be a difficult transition.

Bonnie Mincu, an ADHD coach, writing in her blog Thrive with ADHD, identifies 4 primary reasons for the problems ADHD students have – especially in their freshman year:

  • Disorganization
  • Denial
  • Distraction
  • Derailment

Denial can be a big part of the problem. An article in Education Week indicated that 69 percent of students with ADHD and other learning disabilities “no longer consider themselves disabled once they reach college.” This change in perspective results in low use of accommodations and support. This

Micah Goldfus surveyed student coordinators at a number of colleges and universities around the country to get their recommendations for ADHD students who are struggling in college:

  • Own your ADHD – don’t deny it or think you are going to leave it behind. Embrace your difference and make the most of it.
  • Use disability services and accommodations – Take advantage of the resources that are available to help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to contact the disability office and ask for more accommodations if you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask your professors for help as well.
  • Understand how you learn best – It is worth taking the time to discover your particular learning style and what works best for you rather than trying to copy what everyone else does.
  • Connect with the wider LD / ADHD community – Many students (perhaps as many as one in five) is an LD / ADHD student. Seek them out and share – either in person or through online forums. You will realize you are not along and could some valuable advice from those who have been going through the same struggles.
  • Understand the policies of your school – Every school is somewhat different with respect to support, accommodations, and policies around LD and ADHD students. Be sure you understand the rules for your school to get the help you need.
  • Explore – College gives you the opportunity to break out of your academic comfort zone. You can try out new subjects and explore topics because they’re interesting to you (not because they’re easy or they’re what you’ve always been good at).

It can also be a good idea to engage an ADHD coach during the freshman year of college. This can help you stay focused and avoid the “4 D’s” that Bonnie Mincu identified.

Whatever your strategy, be prepared for the challenges that transitioning to college brings. Succeeding with that transition can make the transition to career easier.

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