College Presents Additional Challenges for Students with ADHD

Health Writer

Students with ADHD heading off to college will experience a new set of problems, but these difficulties do not need to signal failure. According to Dr. Mark H. Thomas, a physician at the University of Alabama, "These students have great academic potential. It just needs to be unblocked by helping them focus." ["Stepping Up to the Challenge", 2009, April 19, Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times]

During the high school years, students with ADHD often have a support system in place. Parents may monitor schoolwork, help in breaking down large projects, and help their teen to study for upcoming tests. Teachers may provide regular feedback to parents and have a more personal relationship with students, providing assistance when needed. Additional school personnel, such as guidance counselors and tutors may be readily available to provide extra assistance. This extended support system can help a student to stay focused and on track throughout the high school years.

But when a student attends college, the support system he or she relied on, disappears. The difficulties that seemed surmountable in high school may seem overwhelming when faced alone. College brings it's own set of challenges: there are late night and all night study sessions, more distractions and a class schedule that could begin early in the morning and not end until evening, with long breaks in between classes. According to the article, "Stepping Up to the Challenge," college students can be at higher risk of both psychological and academic problems and have grade point averages lower than non-ADHD students.

Teens with ADHD may also have low self-esteem. Dealing with the additional stress of college, these students may feel they are not capable of succeeding.

Preparation is Essential

Parents may want to find a doctor either close by the college campus or check into services available in the college medical center. Students may not be able to make it home to have prescriptions refilled and to discuss medication needs on a monthly basis. Having a doctor familiar with the needs of college students with ADHD nearby can help a student. According to Dr. Thomas, college students may need medication needs reviewed. College schedules do not always follow a normal routine, may be longer than high school days and social situations on the weekend may require a student take medication then as well. These changing needs can better be met when a doctor is close by and a student can conveniently discuss their individual needs.

When looking into different colleges, parents and prospective students should talk with the disability office at the college to determine if the student is eligible for academic accommodations and how the student would go about applying to receive accommodations.

In addition to the disability office, it is important to find out what additional resources are available to students with ADHD. Is there a resource center, a tutoring center, study skills lessons or other assistance? Small colleges may not have as many resources available on the college campus, but there may be services within the community that can be utilized. Larger colleges may offer a range of services to students with ADHD or learning disabilities.

Some colleges, such as Landmark College in Vermont and Beacon College in Florida are specifically for students with learning difficulties. Many other colleges have extensive services. The "K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder" provides information on colleges offering programs and services (Princeton Review).

When applying for services at college, documentation is essential. To make sure all documentation is available, create a file specifically for this information. Have complete copies of the latest IEP or Section 504 as well as medical documentation for any diagnosis.

Although there are many challenges for students with ADHD at college, it is quite possible to succeed and thrive at the college level. Having a diagnosis of ADHD does not eliminate the choice of going to college, building upon strengths and creating a new support system can help to increase the chances of success.

For additional information:

Self-Advocacy in High School and College

When Children with ADD Become Adults

Using Your Senior Year of High School to Prepare for College


"Stepping Up to the Challenge", 2009, April 19, Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times