Accommodations in College for Students with Anxiety Disorders

Health Writer

In recent years, diagnosis of mental illness, including anxiety disorders have been on the rise and that includes on college campuses. According to Kim Dansie M.D., of the 17.5 million university students in the U.S., 8.5 percent requested services through their university counseling center and another 29 percent were seeing a therapist or doctor for mental illness outside of their school. Between 1995 and 2008, counseling centers within universities have seen a 40 percent increase in students looking for services.  [1] While anxiety disorders are just one mental health diagnosis, it seems clear that students with anxiety are seeking help more than ever before - Dr. Dansie indicates that 13 percent of students seeking help reported symptoms of significant anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and may make you eligible for accommodations to help compensate for symptoms of anxiety. Your first step is to visit the disability service office of your college. Each school has different requirements for documentation. Make sure you understand what information you need and provide the school with all paperwork.  You will also need to request specific accommodations and explain why these accommodations are necessary. The following are some examples of accommodations which have been found helpful for students with anxiety:

  • Taking exams in a separate, quiet area
  • Extended time for taking exams
  • Being able to choose seating which makes you feel most comfortable, for example, some students with anxiety feel most comfortable sitting near an exit where they can easily escape from the classroom if they have an anxiety attack
  • Identifying safe, quiet areas to give students a place to calm down during times of high anxiety
  • Having alternate work, such as reports, papers or projects for students with a high level of test anxiety
  • Providing alternate ideas for projects if the current assignment will trigger memories of previous traumas
  • Procedures or allowances for making up missed work. Students with anxiety may miss class time because of panic or anxiety attacks. In these instances, professors can allow extra time to complete assignments or make up work completed during class.
  • Allowing tape recorders in class or lectures. Taking notes can be stressful, for example, those with generalized anxiety disorder may worry so much about getting the notes right, they miss important details in a lecture. Using a tape recorder can help alleviate stress and allow the student to listen and participate more fully in class.
  • Email or web access to class notes. Some professors will post class notes online, allowing all students to access the notes before or after the class.
  • Reformatting of tests. Different formats can be used depending on how your anxiety impacts you. For example, for those with test anxiety, tests can be divided up into segments and taken over several days, using essay tests rather than multiple choice (or vice versa) or giving tests orally can help students with anxiety focus on demonstrating their knowledge rather than their nervousness at taking the test.
  • Receiving advance notice of tests or changes within the class. Students with anxiety can focus more on completing their work if they know what to expect. Professors can help by providing pre-planned breaks during long classes or lectures, advance notice of all tests and assignments, and a clear syllabus the student can follow throughout the class.

Based on your individual symptoms, you may feel you need other accommodations as well. Keep track of how your symptoms interfere with your ability to complete assignments and attend class and talk with the disability office about what types of accommodations may work.   Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many students with a psychiatric disability are hesitant at asking for help because of the stigma attached to mental illness. A study completed in 2006 showed that only 23 percent of students would want a friend to know they were getting help for mental illness. [2] But if you are struggling, seek help; don't wait until you are failing a class or facing having to leave school.


[2] Depression and Anxiety Among College Students, 2012, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.,

[1] "Psychiatric Disorders in College Students and Accommodations to Aid Their Success," 2011, March 11, Kim D. Dansie, M.D., High Point Univesity, NC Ahead Conference

"What Accommodations Support School Performance?"   Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Boston University, The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation