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Heading to College with ADHD? Consider These Accommodations

July 24, 2023

The transition from high school to college is transformative — and tricky. During this time, many people discover their passion, forge a career path, and develop friendships to last a lifetime. In these ways, college is a rewarding investment, but post-secondary institutions were not designed with every student in mind.

Young adults with ADHD face unique barriers to higher education that can drastically impact mental health and academic performance. Hence the need for formal accommodations, which are helpful when secured, but vastly underutilized. Most college students choose not to disclose their disability1 — a requirement for accommodation requests. In a recent ADDitude poll, 32% of current and former students said they were simply unaware of support provided by their college’s Office of Disability Services.

What can be done, then, to empower students with ADHD and/or encourage them to seek support? We asked ADDitude readers with college experience: What types of accommodations, services, workarounds, and/or hacks would you recommend to neurodivergent college students? Did you receive formal disability services, or did you develop your own?

Fun fact: Most students find out about accommodations from their peers2 — so consider sharing the tips* below with a classmate. You never know who you might help!

College Accommodations

“My college provides access to an app called Glean for students with accommodations. It records audio and/or video of lectures while allowing you to take notes within the app.” — Kayla, Maryland

[Download: Find Your Passion with This ADHD “Brain Blueprint”]

“I was able to use the Student Development Center to take tests; they offered a noise-free area, which helped me concentrate.” — Starla, Michigan

“Try using color, visuals, taking notes, using Post-Its, or the Cornell Note Method.” — An ADDitude reader

“Flexible/extendable due dates were helpful, as was color-coding my calendar. I used a Panda Planner (#CommissionsEarned) which helped me break down tasks to monthly, weekly, and daily necessities.” — Hannah, Pennsylvania

“Study groups are essential for ADHD. Nothing keeps you on track like a good study buddy.” — Tamara, Wisconsin

[Read: 7 Secrets to Studying Better with ADHD]

“Using Notability to record a lecture has been helpful. It syncs with my handwritten notes using an iPad. I also recently rediscovered bionic reading, and this may be pivotal for me if I can figure out how to easily apply it to textbooks and articles. Reading is my downfall; I’m very slow and comprehension varies.” — Lea, Canada

“One of my professors recommended switching out of in-class learning for some of my courses. I went from failing those classes to getting top marks. I struggled to pay attention and complete work in a formal classroom setting. Being able to do class work on my own time and at my own pace at home, without distraction, made a huge difference.” — An ADDitude reader

“Back when I was in school, everything involved note taking — no tech support or hacks. The biggest help for me was writing everything down and often going back later to rewrite my notes, because it was often a jumble of thoughts that came out on paper. Rewriting allowed me to rethink and reorganize the information in my head. I am also very visual, and I often sketched the information or ideas out as I listened so that I had a visual cue.” — Laura, Oregon

“I am in school, and this is evolving. I find accommodations do less than flexible environments. Traditional, lecture-based classes are challenging for me. However, collaborative or self-directed processes where I can follow my creative and critical thinking are where profound learning occurs.” — Denielle, New Mexico

“Along with regularly zoning out because of my ADHD, I also end up dissociating a lot. I got a notetaker and extra time on tests, which was great, but the game changer was simply having two blank pieces of paper to cover the rest of the page on exams and assignments. My girlfriend, who also has ADHD, found color coding useful. She has categories (general notes, dates, formulas, important people, etc.) and has assigned a color to each category. In class it means she must be focused to know when to switch colors… and in studying the color variety, makes it easier to stay engaged without getting overwhelmed. This strategy also helps her skim notes when looking for a fact — she already knows what category it’ll be in.” — Jessica, New York

“I was not diagnosed when I was in college, but in reflecting back, I was very intentional about allowing my interest levels to drive my course selections and my approach to assignments.” — Alma

“Listening to music, taking my work outdoors, putting on a familiar show or film at a low volume while I wrote papers, always having food near me, and living at home during my undergrad experience helped. The latter meant I could focus on school and not all the adult skills I would have also needed to master in the dorms or in off-campus housing. I knew I wasn’t ready for that and college at the same time.” — Margot, California

“Repetition! Repetition! Repetition! Writing material three to four times, or using it three to four times, is what helped me during college when I wanted to learn a new vocabulary word.” — Erin, Texas

“I made sure that every single day after classes, I sat down and worked through as much as possible. Immediately. I was never on top of [my assignments], but this saved me from [my assignments] being all on top of me.” — Debbie, South Africa

“Having a dedicated study routine really helped me. I was undiagnosed all through college, and I started out with really bad grades. I was able to pull them up by building a routine where I scheduled breaks between classes to study.” — Tiffany, Maryland

*Some reader responses have been edited for clarity.

College Students with ADHD: Next Steps

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1 National Center for Education Statistics. (2022, April 26). A majority of college students with disabilities do not inform school, new NCES data show. https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/4_26_2022.asp

2 Parker Harris, S., Gould, R., & Mullin, C. (2019). ADA research brief: Higher education and the ADA (pp. 1-6). ADA National Network Knowledge Translation Center. https://adata.org/research_brief/higher-education-and-ada

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