3 Personal Skills that Improve Your Chance of Success in College When You Have ADHD

Health Writer

Heading off to college can be difficult for teens with ADHD. During high school, students often have an IEP or Section 504, parents who consistently interact with teachers and administrators, and educators who follow specific accommodations. But college students have to fend for themselves, navigating schedules, taking care of personal needs, and completing their work with a minimum of outside help. For students with ADHD, this can be problematic. The following are three personal skills that can help college students with ADHD succeed.

1. Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself and ask for supports and services you need to succeed. Self-advocacy in college includes understanding your learning needs and seeking out resources and assistance. For students who heavily relied on parents and teachers, taking charge this way is a new experience. Self-advocacy can be frightening for those who have weak social skills and low self-esteem, both common problems for people with ADHD. You might find it hard to ask questions in class or talk to the professor in private to request extra assistance because you fear that you will be thought of as stupid or lazy.

Learning self-advocacy means you are taking charge of your life. It is a skill that helps throughout your life. The following are tips on how to master self-advocacy:

  • Learn about ADHD in college and adulthood. Understand how ADHD might affect your learning style and ability to care for yourself. Know how to explain ADHD and how it affects you.
  • Take responsibility for your ADHD. Pay attention to how you word requests: For example, rather than saying “I have ADHD so I can’t…,” say “Because of my ADHD, I find it difficult to…”

  • Contact your college disability-services office to find out what resources are available for students with ADHD, such as support groups, coaching, and tutoring. Take advantage of any service that might help you stay on track.

  • Create a list of specific accommodations and supportsyou believe would be helpful to you. Be able to explain what each one is as well as how and why it will help.

  • Try to talk to every professor privately at least once per semester. Professors are more able and apt to help you when they know you personally.

2. Goal Setting

Setting goals helps keep you focused on what is important. It provides you with a road map for what you want to accomplish and how you are going to achieve it. Without goals people with ADHD often spent a great deal of time “putting out fires” rather than getting things accomplished. Setting goals is an executive function; it requires planning and organization. Many people with ADHD also have executive-functioning deficits. Some tips for setting goals include:

  • At the beginning of each semester, reevaluate both your short-term and long-term goals. Decide what you want to accomplish this semester. Consider your values and your priorities when deciding what is important.

  • Use the SMART way to set goals. Make sure each goal is smart, measurable, attainable, relevant[1] , and time-bound. It is better to set small, attainable goals than broad, undefined goals.

  • When setting goals, focus on personal performance rather than outcome—for example, “I will study for one hour each night” instead of “I will get an A in chemistry this semester.”

  • Use positive language when creating goals—for example, “I will set aside two hours per night for homework” rather than “I won’t let myself get distracted.” Goals are meant to direct your attention toward productive tasks, not take you away from other things.

  • Set separate goals for each class and determine the steps you need to make the goal a reality.

  • Anticipate obstacles to reaching your goals. Write down what might derail you, such as going to a party, and how you can handle that situation.

  • Be sure to reward yourself when you do reach a goal.

3. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness allows you to judge your own performance and behavior and make adjustments to your actions and reactions when necessary. Executive-functioning deficits often get in the way of self-awareness. A poor working memory might stop you from learning from past mistakes or looking at them with an objective eye. But self-awareness, especially when it comes to strengths and challenges, is an important part of success at college. The following are tips for gaining self-awareness as it relates to success at school:

  • Understand your personal learning style. How do you learn? What types of supports best help you? Think about classes in high school where you performed well and try to determine why. Was the class more interactive? Did it include visual aids? Was the topic interesting? Write down ideas on what helps you learn.
  • Accept that everyone has different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. We sometimes look at ourselves as deficient if someone else is better at something. But we forget to look for ways and areas in which we excel. Each person has his or her own unique set of strengths. Focus on yours.

  • Write down your challenges in the classroom. What do you find most difficult, for example: Is it taking notes, remembering what happened in class, screening out distractions, coming up with study strategies, or test-taking? Write down several ideas to help you combat each challenge.

  • List your strengths—for example, I am good at expressing myself verbally; I am creative; I am good at working with computers; I am good at problem solving. Create study strategies that play to your strengths.

See more helpful articles:

Organization Tips for College Students with ADHD

ADHD in College: Should You Disclose Your ADHD When Applying to a College?

Asking for Accommodations in College

10 Considerations When Choosing a College for a Student with ADHD

Tips for Talking to Professors