Succeeding in College with ADHD
Updated: May 3
College is filled with dozens of challenges that students have to adapt to every day. From learning to live away from home to the pressures of constant coursework, it can be a lot to juggle for people just trying to advance their education.
College can be even more challenging for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as it can make completing things like homework and other daily responsibilities difficult to focus on. The way ADHD affects daily life might make it feel like getting your degree is going to be impossible, but there are methods of managing the condition to make college into the enjoyable experience it’s always made out to be.
If you believe you may have ADHD, and you feel it’s turning college into a daily struggle, we’ve collected a number of strategies for building focus that can make getting through every day much easier.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to focus and maintain attention on one thing for an extended amount of time. This is caused by a difference in brain development and brain activity and is often a chronic condition that can’t be cured and is frequently treated using medication. Individuals with ADHD will often receive a diagnosis during childhood, but it is possible for it to go undiagnosed into adulthood.
Not everyone will be affected by ADHD in the same way, but there are a few key symptoms that are most prevalent in those with the condition. From a cognitive perspective, ADHD is marked by an inability to focus or pay attention, forgetfulness, and general absent-mindedness. The condition also comes with a host of behavioral issues, including impulsivity, irritability, lack of restraint, and aggression.
There are also other conditions that are frequently associated with ADHD due to the way the brain is differently developed, with depression, anxiety, and a learning disability being the most common.
Transitioning Between Home and College
Moving away from home to go to college is a big change. Not everyone adapts to it right away, and taking on the responsibilities that your parents used to manage can sometimes require a considerable period of adjustment. Becoming a self-sufficient adult takes a lot of concentration, a level of concentration that people with ADHD don’t always have.
While some people with ADHD may have had the benefit of a support system from their parents, college students with the condition will have to learn how to manage on their own. Regular chores like laundry or dishes may become difficult for students with ADHD simply because they’ll forget to do them, and self-care tasks like eating regular meals could become a challenge for the same reason.
Perhaps most importantly, college provides a rigorous academic challenge along with a need for discipline not always found in high school. It’s a difficult transition for everybody but is especially difficult for those with ADHD.
College’s many other responsibilities and distractions can further exacerbate these possible issues, and rediscovering the balance that was present at home can be an important part of finding success in such a new setting.
How ADHD Affects College Performance
While the transition between home and college is bound to be tough for students with ADHD, overall college performance can also be greatly affected by the condition. Most college courses will require a lot of focus between long lectures and a plethora of assignments, an amount of focus that ADHD doesn’t always allow for. The symptoms of ADHD can result in a handful of unfavorable behaviors during college, all of which can hinder performance and keep students from reaching their academic goals.
The daily responsibilities of college, between coursework and personal care, can eat up a lot of time every day. One of the best ways to keep these tasks from getting too overwhelming is to employ strong time management techniques, something that individuals with ADHD may find particularly challenging. The absent-mindedness of ADHD can make it difficult to follow a regular schedule, and people may find that time often gets away from them after being distracted from a certain task.
ADHD is marked by regular forgetfulness even outside of the context of college, but it can be especially disruptive for students. College asks students to juggle multiple classes that will often contain many assignments with strict due dates and completion requirements. This can be a lot to juggle for students with ADHD, and some assignments may slip through the cracks and get graded poorly as a result.
One of the biggest enemies of college students is procrastination. Whether there’s an assignment that’s particularly dreadful or a student is simply bored of their coursework, delaying the completion of assignments can be a self-placed thorn in the side of many students. ADHD can make procrastination even more prominent because of how those with the condition can become easily bored by certain tasks. It’s not uncommon for students to put off certain assignments or responsibilities because they simply aren’t interested in them.
An effective way to manage the responsibilities of college is to come up with a plan, but not every plan is made equally. Students with ADHD may have a hard time coming up with a helpful plan for college life due to a number of factors, from a lack of to properly prioritize certain tasks, to impulsively going against a certain schedule due to some distraction. This lack of successful planning can affect a student’s life in every aspect, making college much more stressful than it already is.
10 Tips for Succeeding in College When You Have ADHD
While managing ADHD in college may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there are ways to make everyday life easier and make success in college easier to achieve. It’s important to acknowledge that not every person with ADHD will be able to adapt in the same way, but there are still some fundamental tips that should help students with ADHD succeed with their academics in some aspects.
1. Make a Plan
The first and most important step towards finding success in college with ADHD is to establish a plan for success. When building this plan, it’s important to identify two things. First, what is your definition of success in college? Second, what are the things that are infringing on your success the most? Identifying the first part will help give you a clearer picture of how to proceed, and finding the second part will help you figure out what to avoid on that journey.
Use whatever tools work for you. You could use a calendar app to help you keep on track, a planning journal, or sticky notes. Experiment to create your plan in ways that combat your ADHD.
2. Create a Routine
One of the best ways to combat forgetfulness caused by ADHD is to establish a routine that can be followed every day. While slipping into this routine may be difficult at first, working towards it can be a great way to ensure that all of college’s daily responsibilities are consistently taken care of. Writing down a routine can also help reinforce it in your mind because you’ll have a physical representation of it to remind you at all times.
3. Limit Distractions
Modern life is filled with numerous distractions, between social media and other pieces of technology, it can be difficult to filter out the noise to focus on more pressing matters. College life compounds this by adding its own unique distractions, such as new friends and exciting social activities. For students with ADHD, limiting and managing these distractions can be the most crucial part of finding success in college.
This may be the first time you’re on your own, relying on yourself to create and follow your own schedule. Give yourself the opportunity to explore and enjoy college life, but, as with anything else, do it in moderation. Don’t let your social life negatively impact your academic performance.
4. Work Through Procrastination
Fighting procrastination can be a difficult task, as students with ADHD may actively know that they are procrastinating while they do it. It’s a complex situation, but one of the best ways to get over procrastination is to recognize when it’s happening and do everything you can to work through it.
If you’re procrastinating by doing something you enjoy more than what you need to achieve, pause that task to work on something more important. Or if you’re procrastinating by being on your phone, putting the phone down can help give you a reason to get started on what you were supposed to be doing.
5. Get Sleep
The long assignments and party atmosphere of college can sometimes put students in a situation where they don’t get enough regular sleep. While this may just seem like part of the college experience, it can be damaging to the focus of students with ADHD.
A lack of sleep can make it hard to focus under any circumstances, and when combined with ADHD, trying to sit through a lecture or get a paper done can start to feel impossible. Getting the proper amount of sleep every night can help ensure that students with ADHD remain as sharp as possible in everything that they do.
6. Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise offers a wide variety of benefits. Some individuals with ADHD may find that they have a surplus of energy that makes them feel hyperactive throughout the day. Exercise can be a great outlet for that hyperactivity, not only because it gives someone a chance to work out their excess energy, but also because regular exercise can help level out brain function for those with ADHD. The release of chemicals that comes with exercise can provide a variety of benefits from relieving anxiety to helping maintain focus, and it’s a great way to stay physically healthy in college as well.
8. Use College Resources
Most colleges are aware that some of their students will have ADHD and provide a number of resources to assist them. This can range from study areas that are designed to be quiet and distraction-free, to in-classroom accommodations to make sure students get the most out of their education. Taking advantage of these resources can be a great way to keep your studies on track, and help you build a support system of people that understand what you’re going through.
9. Work with a Therapist
ADHD is a chronic mental condition, and its symptoms can vary widely from a lack of focus to full-on anxiety. These symptoms can get much more severe due to the stresses of college, and in some cases it may be necessary to speak to a mental health professional. Some colleges will provide on-site therapists at no additional cost, but getting help wherever possible is an important part of being completely successful.
It’s important that you not only find a therapist who’s familiar with ADHD, but one who works well with your personality. Take the time to find the best person to work with and you’ll have the best success.
10. Take Your Medication
Some individuals with ADHD may need to take medication to manage their symptoms, and it's vital to regularly take any medication to keep symptoms from getting too severe. For students, consistently taking any ADHD medications can help ensure success in the classroom.
College provides a wide variety of distractions, and late nights and sleeping in can make it easy to forget taking your meds. Establishing a routine should give you a good baseline for every day, and help you stay focused as you work through college’s many challenges.
Try different tactics such as putting your medication in a place you will absolutely look at before you leave your room. Part of ADHD is forgetfulness, so find an obvious place, such as by your phone if you use it for your alarm. Or by your keys (now just don’t forget your keys!). You can also set a daily reminder on your phone. Medication can be a critical part of managing your ADHD, so taking the steps to keep it in mind will help you manage your symptoms and do well.
Is ADHD Considered a Disability for College?
Due to the wide-ranging mental effects of ADHD, it is considered a disability by most colleges. It’s more specifically treated as a learning disability, and students are able to notify their school so that instructors will be made aware and proper accommodations can be made.
Getting ADHD Accommodations in College
In order to get proper ADHD accommodations in college, students will have to register for academic assistance. These services are often tailored to your specific needs, but they can include things like getting another student to help with writing your notes, or getting notes directly from an instructor. It’s just a matter of making your requirements clear so that you can get the help you need.
Klarity can assist you with getting a signed ADHD evaluation report from a licensed mental health provider that's accepted nationwide and can be used to seek accommodations from your college or university. Learn more about our services.
If You Suspect You Have Untreated ADHD, Seek Out Help
ADHD shouldn’t be left unaddressed. Symptoms can add up to make daily life exceedingly difficult, and can even be mentally harmful to those that are seriously affected by the condition. College student or not, individuals with ADHD should get the help they need as soon as possible.
While ADHD can’t be cured, there are still effective ways to manage it and ensure that it doesn’t take over your whole life. If your ADHD symptoms are mild and mostly marked by a weak attention span, there are ways to establish discipline in order to build a stronger sense of focus. More clinical routes like therapy and medication have also proven to be effective and should be considered when necessary.
Your medical provider will work with you to develop an ADHD treatment plan that works best.
Klarity ADHD Is Available Online for College Students
If you believe you may have undiagnosed ADHD, or you’re struggling to manage your ADHD symptoms, contact Klarity to get help today. We can assist you in connecting with a licensed healthcare provider to get your ADHD diagnosis and treatment plan, so you can get the professional help you deserve. In addition, online treatment is available on Klarity so you can arrange appointments that work with your schedule. Licensed health care professionals can also provide the paperwork you need to get accommodations.
Klarity is here to help you connect with licensed providers to manage your ADHD symptoms so you don’t have to suffer alone. Contact Klarity to schedule your appointment with a licensed professional today so we can set you on a path towards success.