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Managing College Life with ADHD

The college years can be a very exciting time in your life. College life presents itself with endless choices and opportunities, both academically and socially. While this freedom can be appealing, it can also increase the challenges you may have managed as a high school student … especially if you have ADHD. Here are some steps you can take to make your college experience less overwhelming and more fulfilling. 

1. Apply for accommodations. 

If you thought that accommodations ended in high school, that’s not necessarily true. After high school, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enables those who qualify to receive specific accommodations in college. If your ADHD significantly impacts your functioning in school, consider reaching out to Disability Services at your college to apply for accommodations before the start of your semester. Typical accommodations in college can include: 

● Extended time on tests 

● Access to class notes or a note taker 

● Permission to record lectures 

● Textbooks in an electronic format that can be accessed with text-to-speech 

● Assistive technology (such as text-to-speech or word prediction software, Livescribe pens for note taking support, digital recorders, etc.) 

● At the start of the semester, familiarize yourself with these resources and consider compiling a list that you can keep handy when you need it.

2. Familiarize yourself with your school’s resources. 

If you’re having difficulty juggling the demands of college life, most schools offer additional resources that can support your learning, mental health, or provide you with accountability. These resources include: 

● Tutoring Centers 

● Writing Centers 

● Counseling 

● Peer mentoring or study groups 

At the start of the semester, familiarize yourself with these resources and consider compiling a list that you can keep handy when you need it. 

3. Work on building connections within your school community. 

In addition to maintaining contact with friends and family at home, it’s extremely important to build a support system for yourself at school. Here are some suggestions: 

● Connect with other students, advisors, and professors. This can be very helpful in navigating the many facets of college life. 

● Meet with your advisor periodically to ask questions, discuss concerns, or review your course load. 

● Speak with professors to discuss possible majors and/or career paths in their field of expertise. 

● Join clubs and/or attend campus events to connect with others socially.

● For accountability, reach out to classmates to schedule study groups and/or times to meet up to do work. 

4. Use a monthly calendar to track semester deadlines and due dates.

It’s often quite challenging to keep track of various deadlines and due dates for the semester since they’re recorded in so many different places. To tackle this, it’s helpful to use a monthly calendar (paper or electronic) to track deadlines. At the beginning of your semester, review your school’s website, as well as each course syllabus, and record the following on the monthly calendar: 

● Deadlines for adding or dropping courses 

● Registration dates for the following semester 

● Dates of midterms/finals 

● Test dates and deadlines for papers/projects 

Post this calendar in a visible place, so that you can see what’s ahead and anticipate upcoming deadlines. 

5. Use a weekly calendar to visualize your “flow of the week”. 

In addition to a monthly calendar, use a weekly calendar that shows each hour of the day (paper or electronic) and record the following: 

● Your class schedule 

● Ongoing commitments, such as work or clubs

● Regular study/homework blocks throughout the week. (The general rule of thumb is 2 hours of studying/homework per credit hour)

● Projects due, exams, or interim deadlines 

Try to develop a routine of weekly planning, preferably on Sundays. 

6. Practice good self-care by getting enough sleep and exercise. 

It’s well known that exercise has many benefits for those with ADHD. Not only does physical activity increase levels of dopamine (the feel-good transmitter in your brain), but it also can improve symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. With this in mind, consider the following: 

● Work out in the gym on a regular basis. 

● Sign up for exercise classes or recreational sports clubs. 

● Take regular walks or jog to help you manage stress and stay on track. 

● Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, preferably 8-9 hours nightly. Not only can sleep deprivation cause lack of energy and irritability, but it can also worsen ADHD symptoms of inattention and forgetfulness. Basically prioritizing sleep will help you with productivity, concentration, and overall performance. 

Although navigating college life with ADHD can be challenging, you can learn to manage these challenges and get the most out of college life. By accessing available resources/supports, building connections within your school community, using calendars to manage your assignments, and practicing good self-care, you can learn to thrive during your time in college.

Andrea Yellinek, MS, OTR/L, CACP

Andrea Yellinek, MS, OTR/L, CACP

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach