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Thriving in College with ADHD Accommodations and Strategies to Help Manage Your Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a long-term condition that results in trouble concentrating. It can be accompanied by hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. College is filled with new experiences in a student’s academic, personal and professional life. This can lead to amplified challenges for college students with ADHD.

The academic difficulties and new social pressures are hard enough to manage for the typical student who doesn’t have ADHD. Add ADHD to the mix, and it’s no wonder students with this condition may struggle to keep up with challenging coursework or avoid getting into trouble during social events. But with a little bit of help, self-awareness and a desire to learn, students with ADHD can grow and thrive in the college setting.

This guide will look at how college students with ADHD can accomplish as much as any other student by providing a variety of strategies and tips as well as detailing on-campus resources.

Meet the Expert

Shirag Shemmassian Founder, Shemmassian Academic Consulting

Written By:

2018 Spotlight: 20 Best College Programs for Students with ADHD

Looking for a program that specifically addresses ADHD? Seeking out a school that is friendly to those who learn differently? The college programs below are among some of the best for students who have ADHD.

American University:

American University’s Learning Services Program (LSP) is a one-year program that provides special benefits for freshman with learning disabilities, including weekly one-on-one meetings, exclusive classes, academic advising, course selection consulting, writing tutors and mentorship from upperclassmen. After their freshman year, students can continue to receive assistance through American University’s Academic Support and Access Center.

Curry College:

Curry College is home to the Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL), a special program for college students who have a variety of learning challenges. One of the first of its kind, PAL creates a special learning community where students can receive strategies and tips in a one-on-one and small group environment. Students of PAL, however, are still fully mainstreamed.

Hofstra University:

Students at Hofstra University have the Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS) available to them. PALS provides a learning specialist who follows each student throughout their college years. This specialist provides one-on-one instruction and advising and helps students tailor their curriculum to meet their academic and learning needs.

King’s College:

To help incoming freshman with learning disabilities acclimate to academic challenges in college, King’s College provides a First Year Academic Studies Program (FASP). FASP works to develop a student’s self-confidence, teach learning strategies and introduce self-advocacy skills. Students in FASP will have access to a special orientation program, peer tutoring, writing workshops and the ability to enroll in the summer College Entry Program.

Mitchell College:

Thames is a college transition program for incoming students at Mitchell College. Thames is available to any student who may need additional guidance in preparing for personal and academic college life, including those with disabilities like ADHD. Participants will receive customized coursework and individualized advising from faculty members.

Muskingum University:

The PLUS Program began in 1983 and continues to provide tailored help to students with disabilities. Students have the option of enrolling in any of the three PLUS Program levels and may receive services that include personalized learning instruction, weekly meetings, academic coaching, access to professional Learning Consultants and mentorships.

Northeastern University:

Students with a learning disability, including ADHD, are eligible to enroll in Northeastern University’s Learning Disabilities Program (LDP). Through the LDP, students will meet with a specialist twice a week. These frequent meetings help students identify their academic goals and learning needs as well as develop skills that will be used throughout their academic career. Students will also have access to special accommodations as necessary.

University of Iowa:

The University of Iowa’s Realizing Educational and Career Hopes (REACH) program is unique in that it’s a self-contained two-year certificate program for students with disabilities. REACH allows them to experience college life while also obtaining personal, academic and professional skills to help them live independently.

Augsburg University:

Augsburg University has the Center for Learning and Accessible Student Services (CLASS). Instead of leaving students on their own to obtain special accommodations, CLASS works with them to identify their specific academic and personal needs. Not only do students receive the accommodations they are legally entitled to, but they also learn valuable organizational, learning and time management skills that will help them throughout their academic and professional career.

Davis & Elkins College:

Davis & Elkins College offers the opportunity to participate in the Supported Learning Program (SLP). To enroll in the SLP, students will need to complete a separate application. Once accepted, students receive a wide range of comprehensive services, including weekly meetings, supervised study hall, help with time management skills, regular progress monitoring, a study skills class and access to assistive technology.

Landmark College:

Unlike many schools that simply have a center or program designed for students with learning disabilities, Landmark College is a postsecondary institution specifically intended for students who face learning challenges. Students with dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder and ADHD comprise a significant portion of the student body. Special support services integrated into the curriculum help students in all phases of learning and college living. Students do not need to apply for accommodations because all students receive individualized support for all academic areas of study.

McDaniel College:

McDaniel College’s Academic Support and Disability Services provides the additional assistance students may need to make the most of their academic career. Notable programs include receiving necessary accommodations for recognized disabilities; special workshops to develop life skills, such as time management, organization, and interviewing and socialization; group support from fellow students; one-on-one sessions with an academic advisor and the ability to move onto campus five days early.

University of Arizona:

At the University of Arizona, students who face challenges in learning will benefit from the SALT Center. Those who learn differently or have trouble focusing can take advantage of a variety of educational services. These services include getting personalized education assistance from Strategic Learning Specialists, training on how to better use technology, learning workshops and coaching.

University of Denver:

Students with a history of learning in a unique way can benefit from the University of Denver’s Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP). By enrolling in LEP, students with ADHD and other learning challenges will receive personalized counseling, tutoring, peer mentoring, skill building training and social skill building assistance. Students receiving services from LEP take the same courses as the general student body.

Beacon College:

Beacon College is one of the few schools in the United States specifically created to help students with learning disabilities. In addition to classroom and personal support services, Beacon College keeps class sizes small to allow for more attention from faculty members. The school also incorporates professional skills and training into the curriculum to ensure graduating students are prepared to enter the workforce.

Dean College:

At Dean College, incoming students with learning disabilities have the option of enrolling in the Arch Learning Community (ALC). The ALC provides personalized coaching, access to smaller classes, weekly seminars and academic advising that goes above and beyond what students in the general study body receive. ALC is available in one-year increments, so students can choose to enroll anytime throughout their college experience.

Lynn University:

At Lynn University, students with learning disabilities can enroll in the Institute for Achievement and Learning (IAL). The hallmark of the IAL is academic coaching, where certified individuals provide learning strategies. Other services for IAL students include access to assistive technology and multi-faceted tutoring, which allows for one-on-one instruction in a specific class subject. Group tutoring and academic skills tutoring are available as well.

Marist College:

Marist College has been accepting students with learning disabilities for over 50 years. As a result, it has created the Learning Support Program (LSP). The focus of the LSP is to teach students with learning disabilities how to work independently with the goal of long-term professional and personal development. Learning disability specialists are available to work not only with students, but with their course professors as well. Students can expect to improve their writing, time management and organizational skills. Eligible students can receive accommodations through the LSP, including note takers, personal readers and adaptive testing procedures.

University of Connecticut:

The University of Connecticut is home to the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD), whose mission is to help those with disabilities make the most of their college learning experience. The CSD provides comprehensive assistance and guidance. Resources include help with obtaining academic accommodations, academic advising, personal assistants, special instructors and mentoring.

West Virginia Wesleyan College:

To help students with learning disabilities, West Virginia Wesleyan College developed the Mentor Advantage Program (MAP). As the name implies, MAP focuses on helping students through mentorship while also providing additional assistance and services. These services include subject-specific tutoring, organizational skill development, teaching learning strategies and structured study sessions.

Living with ADHD on Campus

College is a tremendous investment in time, money and effort. And while the college years might hold additional challenges for those with ADHD, these students should by no means avoid the experience. Success is more likely to come to those who are well informed, so it’s important to keep certain things in mind when choosing a school and starting the educational journey.

Choosing a School

“Colleges, relative to high schools, place a lot more responsibility on students to manage their course schedules, study on their own with fewer assignments or faculty oversight, and to take more initiative to build relationships with faculty and to seek help when needed,” says Shirag Shemmassian, Ph.D., a college admissions expert. “Therefore, beyond the usual considerations for all students starting their college career (e.g., school prestige, location, financial aid, major offerings, culture, diversity), students with ADHD should make every effort to ensure that they will be able to thrive at their chosen institution with the proper accommodations and organizational skills.”

One way aspiring students can ensure that they thrive at their chosen school is to identify their learning style. Students can do this with the help of a school counselor who may even be able to give them tips on how to study effectively. A student’s learning style can also come into play in terms of class size and how the school year is divided. For example, students with ADHD may want to consider a school that offers small classes to both underclassmen and upperclassmen to benefit from more individualized attention. Semesters, as opposed to quarters, should also be considered when choosing a school as this can directly affect the intensity of the courses.

Shemmassian also suggests students look into how a school handles accommodations, stating it’s important for students to contact a school’s office for students with disabilities (OSD) to confirm they have the resources necessary for them to succeed.

“While colleges typically offer more robust accommodations than high schools, this may not be the same in every high school/college comparison, so do your research, preferably before you agree to attend a particular institution,” he says.

Once on Campus

After arriving on campus, new students should keep the following pointers in mind:

  • Be prepared to advocate. Students with ADHD are usually entitled to reasonable accommodations on campus. However, the burden is on the student to identify what these accommodations are, to request the accommodations and to provide the information necessary to substantiate the request.

  • Have realistic expectations. Getting all As the first semester isn’t easy for anyone and participating in extracurricular activities can add to the load. Students may want to take it slow at first in order to keep their focus on completing their program.

  • Stay positive. It’s important to remember that college success comes to those who put forth the effort, regardless of a student’s specific circumstances. Students with ADHD can certainly achieve their academic goals with right mindset.

Most of all, Shemmassian wants to remind students that “More so than being a ‘student with ADHD,’ you’re an individual with the same opportunities and achievement potential as anyone else.” By taking advantage of the available resources and accommodations, students with ADHD can rest assured that they are not alone on their academic journey.

Accommodations for Students with ADHD

A college or university that receives federal funding is required to provide accommodations to students with disabilities as long as those students meet certain guidelines in accordance with federal law. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit the discrimination on the basis of a student’s disability. These laws also require colleges and universities to take steps to allow students with disabilities to have the same academic opportunities as their non-disabled peers. This is straightforward in theory, but a bit more complex in practice in two primary ways.

First, the student must have a disability that warrants a special accommodation. An official diagnosis of ADHD by itself may not always be enough for a school to be legally required to provide an accommodation. The student must show that the ADHD is severe enough to have a notable impact on their ability to learn.

Second, the student must provide sufficient evidence that the accommodation being requested is justified. What qualifies as sufficient evidence will depend on the school. For instance, proof that a student received accommodations in high school for his or her ADHD, such as with an IEP or Section 504, may not be enough. Students may also need to provide a doctor’s diagnosis, a doctor’s recommendation for necessary accommodations and complete a battery of assessments for the school.

“The accommodations available to students with ADHD depend on their specific needs, usually highlighted by the mental health or education professional who conducted their psychoeducational assessment,” Shemmassian points out. “In addition, having an open and honest conversation with the OSD staff member will allow students with ADHD to receive the right support.”

What is the right support? It might include the following:

  • Reduced class load
  • Higher priority for class registration
  • Ability to record lectures with an audio recorder
  • Assistance with taking notes in class with an assigned notetaker
  • A private room in which to take tests
  • Reading assistance
  • Extra time to take tests
  • Having any oral classroom instructions provided in written form
  • Alternative testing formats

Tips for Making the Most of Your College Experience

“Students with ADHD can have as enjoyable a college experience as any other student,” Shemmassian says. “The key is to explore academic and extracurricular options (without overcommitting, especially during freshman year) and to identify their tribes of peers with similar interests. Many longtime friendships — which can go many years beyond college, if not a lifetime — are formed early on. However, students will build meaningful relationships throughout their college years.”

Here are eight tips to help students learn both inside and outside the classroom:

  • Learn life skills early. In high school, a parent may have done the laundry, paid the bills and cooked the meals. In college, a student will likely be responsible for these things, so students should learn life skills before heading to college.

  • Find stress relievers. No matter how smart a person is or how good their time management and organizational skills are, they will typically get stressed over schoolwork and responsibilities. Finding a way to relieve this stress is important in order to stay focused, avoid feeling overwhelmed and maintain physical health.

  • Focus on time management and organization. College life is largely self-directed. To help stay on top of the personal and academic responsibilities, students should be able to manage their time effectively and keep track of current and future responsibilities, including developing a study routine that works for them.

  • Use on-campus resources. If the school provides academic assistance to those with ADHD, use it! These resources can mean the difference between success and failure. Even something as simple as a weekly check-in can help prevent failing a class.

  • Don’t skip class. Maybe it feels pointless to attend each class, but professors notice students who consistently skip. This can be detrimental because when exam week rolls around, professors may not be willing to accommodate special requests, like extended office hours, to those who have missed half a dozen class lectures.

  • Create a relationship with professors. Professors recognize hard work and dedication. Most are more than willing to help someone who works hard and makes a conscious effort to engage in class. Meeting with the professor often can also lead to some lasting friendships.

  • Don’t drink in excess. Even though alcohol consumption can be a typical part of college life, if a student is going to drink, they should do so in careful moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to mistakes for anyone, but individuals with ADHD are particularly vulnerable. Research indicates that of students who consume alcohol, those with ADHD will experience more negative consequences than students without ADHD.

  • Be careful with medication. Most medications prescribed for ADHD are controlled substances. This means that losing them, taking an extra dose or having them stolen may make it very difficult to refill a prescription. Students must keep the medications in the original bottle and in a safe place. They should also be diligent in taking them as directed by a doctor.

Along with these unique tips, students with ADHD should keep in mind the advice given by Shemmassian, who states: “It’s also important to note that college flies by for many students, so it’s important to have some achievement goals. Professionally, do you want to prepare for graduate school after college, or join the workforce? Do you hope to participate in a study abroad program at any point? Knowing the answers to some of these questions will help plan coursework and otherwise stay on track.”

Grants and Scholarships for ADHD College Students

To be eligible for this scholarship, students must have completed at least one year of postsecondary schooling and have a documented ADA recognized disability.

The Ability Center provides a scholarship to students in specified counties in Michigan or Ohio who have a disability and are enrolled in a postsecondary degree program.

This website devoted to discussing and sharing information about ADHD also has a section with many scholarships intended for students with ADHD or another type of learning disability.

Administered by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, this $2,500 scholarship goes to a graduating senior who has been accepted into a two-year community college or vocational program and has a documented learning disability, including ADHD.

The personal injury firm of Auger & Auger provides a $1,000 scholarship twice a year to two students with a disability who demonstrate exceptional academic merit and show how they have learned from, or overcome, their disability.

This $1,000 scholarship is for any student who has any type of disability and has completed at least one semester at an accredited college or university.

Cappex serves as a one-stop shop for anyone thinking about going to college. Besides detailed information on how to find and choose a college, it also has a searchable college scholarship directory.

Offered by the U.S. Department of Labor, this site hosts an impressive college scholarship database with over 7,500 opportunities for financial assistance for education.

Chegg’s primary business deals with college textbooks, but they also have comprehensive college and scholarship exploration tools. Its scholarship database has over 25,000 listed scholarships.

Better known for its admission’s tests, the College Board also has a scholarship search tool that boasts almost $6 billion in financial aid possibilities.

The DREAM Institute offers a scholarship to any Oklahoma student who has a physical or learning disability and attends a public postsecondary institution in Oklahoma.

This website focuses on helping people make major decisions, such as moving, finding a career or going to college. It has a robust section that outlines information to help students with disabilities pay for college.

Students with an invisible disability who also have an interest in computer science are eligible for this $10,000 scholarship.

This $500 scholarship is available to college students with a disability who plan to work in any field after graduation that benefits the disabled community.

Mays Mission provides multiple scholarships to students enrolled in undergraduate programs and working toward their bachelor’s degrees. Students must provide evidence of a significant physical or mental disability to qualify.

Available to students attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison, these scholarships go to those with disabilities who have been verified through the McBurney Disability Resource Center.

Offered by Shire, this scholarship provides undergraduate and graduate students with ADHD a total of $2,000 to pay for the cost of tuition at a postsecondary institution.

High school seniors who have a disability as defined by the WHO and can demonstrate financial need are eligible for this renewable $5,000 annual scholarship.

The NCLD’s goal is to better the lives of anyone who has a learning disability. They offer a plethora of resources, including a list of several scholarships.

This resource specializes in providing information for those looking to attend college or move, including a searchable database of college scholarships.

While Peterson’s might be most famous for test preparation materials, the website also has an excellent scholarship search tool.

This organization was founded to provide academic financial assistance for students with learning disabilities.

This comprehensive website is dedicated to applying, getting into and paying for college. This means they not only have a scholarship directory, but they also offer a scholarship of their own.

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