Preparing for the Transition to College When You Have ADHD

The Difficult Transition to College for Students with ADHD

The first year of college can be especially challenging for students with ADHD and other learning differences. These students are more likely to have lower GPAs and be on academic probation than their non-ADHD peers. The graduation rate for these students is estimated to be 5% versus 41% for the general college population.

These can be sobering facts for ADHD teens heading to college and their parents, for whom college generally represents a substantial financial investment.

The Struggles ADHD College Students Face

There are a number of challenges faced by a freshman student with ADHD.

  • Less structured environment of college life – College life demands that students be able to make their own decisions and manage their schedules and workloads without a lot of supervision or guidance. This can cause problems for those with ADHD who may have difficult planning and organizing.
  • Lack of a familiar support structure – In high school the student with ADHD could count on the support of parents to help them get their work done, keep to a schedule and follow a daily routine. When away at school, that support structure no longer exists.
  • Establishing a daily routine –  A daily routine is essential, especially in an unfamiliar place. The transition to a new location can be very disorienting, especially during the first year of college.
  • Poor executive function skills – The academic life of college assumes that students can organize their studies, keep to a schedule, get their work done on time, maintain a study discipline. This can be very difficult for students with ADHD, who may struggle with poor  executive function skills, but have attention challenges and can become easily distracted.
  • Problems with maintaining a medication regimen – Many students with ADHD have been prescribed medication to help manager their symptoms. However, often these students don’t stay on their medication or are under pressure from their peers to share their medications.  While parents may have supervised the medication routine at home, in college they are own their  own. A broken medication regime can lead to an exacerbation of ADHD symptoms.
  • Lack of effective support services on campus – Not all college are “ADHD friendly,” in that they provide support services for students learning differences. Counselors at college may not be trained to work with the problems that students with ADHD / LD have.

Preparation is Essential

The key to ensure a smooth transition from high school to college is preparation. Being aware of the risks and finding a college that is a good fit are important. If medication is part of the picture, talking with your child’s doctor and / or therapist about how to handle the transition well ahead of time will make a big difference.

Help your college bound teen work out strategies to handle studying and daily living. ADHD coaching can be a vital strategy in helping students learn to plan, prioritize, and persist and helps them build greater self-determination and direction as well as increases their self-confidence and self-sufficiency.

Also, talk to your son or daughter about asking for help if they are struggling. Too often, the student with ADHD will hesitate to ask their parents for help. Awareness of the difficulties and preparation can make the difference between success and failure during the transition from high school to college.


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