If you have ADHD, you might have a few extra challenges when it comes to college life. But that doesn't mean you won't have a great year. You may just need a little extra back-to-school preparation.
Learn more about what it's like having ADHD in college and get helpful tips for academic success.
How Common Is ADHD in College?
If you're a freshman on campus, you may be wondering how your ADHD will affect your college experience. Will it be difficult to keep up with your coursework? Are the distractions of college going to prevent you from doing well in your classes? Will you feel like an outsider due to your condition?
Every college and every individual is different, so it's impossible to make predictions about the first two questions. But in terms of feeling like an outsider, you don't need to worry too much. Having ADHD as a college student is more common than you might think. In fact, a recent international survey found that around 16% of college students have ADHD.
As you may already know, having ADHD puts you at a higher risk of developing certain mental health issues. If that's the case for you, you'll be relieved to know that among college students with ADHD, about 58% report having at least one comorbid disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, or a substance use disorder. Fortunately, many campuses have mental health counselors and support groups you can turn to when you need help.
What It's Like Having ADHD in College
Although it's nice to know that plenty of other college students have ADHD, there are still some challenges you might face due to your condition. The following are some of the ways that ADHD can affect your college experience.
Academics: ADHD can make school more challenging, and college is no exception. Studies have found that ADHD college students tend to earn lower GPAs and are less likely to complete eight semesters.
Time management: In college, you're in charge of getting yourself to class on time, completing your assignments, and studying for tests. The school day isn't structured like high school, and that added flexibility can be tough if you struggle with time management.
Mental health: Many college students struggle with mental health issues, with 37% reporting anxiety disorders and 44% reporting symptoms of depression. ADHD is already associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression, and the added challenges of college life can introduce more mental stress.
Back-to-School Tips for ADHD Students
As you head back to school, take some time to think about how you can prepare yourself for a fruitful and fun year. While your ADHD may make certain things more difficult (time management, organization, etc.), it helps to be proactive in setting yourself up for success. Below, you'll find our back-to-school advice for college students with ADHD.
Get the right treatment plan
When you're thinking about how to deal with your ADHD at college, the first thing you need is a good treatment plan. For many college students, that includes an ADHD medication that suits their needs. This is the most effective way for most students with ADHD to manage their symptoms at school with little to no side effects. In addition or as an alternative, you may want to participate in cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and other types of ADHD treatment to help along the way.
An important thing to keep in mind in terms of your ADHD treatment is that stimulant medications are often abused on college campuses. It is illegal to share or sell these prescription meds, so don't be tempted by any requests or offers from your peers.
Create a routine
A typical college schedule has lots of flexibility in it. You might start classes early in the morning some days, but not until afternoon on others. Your schedule isn't the same every day like in high school, which can make it tougher to anticipate what ADHD symptoms might cause you problems at any given moment.
One way to counteract this is by creating a routine. Studies have found that having a routine can help adults with ADHD feel more control of their tasks and be less overwhelmed. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Plan regular times to get together with a friend or classmate to complete schoolwork or study together.
- Set aside certain days for tasks on your to-do list, like doing laundry on Thursdays.
- Wind down each night with an episode of a favorite TV show or reading a book.
- Even if you have late classes some days, stick to a regular sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
Use organizational tools
Back at home, you may have had teachers or parents helping you stay on top of your assignments and reminding you when tests or important deadlines were approaching. That's not the case in college. You'll learn to manage these tasks independently over time, but having some organizational tools at your disposal can really help.
For example, you can use a planner or a digital calendar to help you remember which assignments or tests are coming up. Set reminders to stay on track throughout the semester. Use notepads or an app on your phone to create detailed to to-do lists which break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
You can also add more organization to your living space to help with your ADHD management. If you often forget to bring things you need to class, consider creating a "launch pad" near the door of your dorm room or apartment where you can keep your keys, wallet, backpack, and other necessities so you don’t accidentally leave them behind.
Minimize distractions during study time
ADHD people are more susceptible to distractions, which can be especially tough when you're trying to work on an assignment, write a paper, or study for an exam. The key is to make sure you have a place to focus on schoolwork with minimal distractions. That might not be your dorm room or apartment depending on what your roommates are up to.
Do some searching around campus to find the best spots to focus, whether it's a private study room at the library or a quiet coffee shop nearby. You can also use noise-canceling headphones or brown noise to help improve your concentration.
Find your people
While you definitely want to focus on academic success in college, it's important to nurture your social life as well. Developing a strong support network will be one of the best ways to ensure a great experience at college, and some of the friends you make may even become study buddies that help you stay on track academically.
It can be tough to start out in a new place, but keep in mind that most college students are just as interested in making new friends as you are. Some of the ways you can make social connections at college include:
- Chat with your dorm roommates and neighbors.
- Participate in college clubs and other extracurricular activities.
- Form study groups with your classmates.
- Get an on-campus job or volunteer with student groups.
Think about what you'll need to have a successful year at college, and start preparing now. There's no need for your ADHD to hold you back at school. Managing your symptoms, developing smart habits, and making new friends will all help you enjoy college life to the fullest.