College Students Coping with Adult ADHD

Every college or university with federal funding is obligated to provide “reasonable accommodations” for the estimated 2–4 percent of college students who have adult ADHD, but the amount of help varies widely among schools. Some schools provide the bare minimum to comply with the federal law.

Others offer every imaginable service to accommodate students with adult ADHD, including student disability services, study skills programs, specialized help during registration and freshman orientation, on-campus physicians who specialize in treating ADHD, and access to on-campus ADHD coaches, counseling, psychotherapy, and support groups.


College students with ADHD have more academic difficulties, fewer academic coping strategies, more intrusive thoughts, a higher degree of restlessness, and a lower quality of life than college students without ADHD, according to research presented at the August 2004 annual meeting of Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD).

If you have adult ADHD, look for a college or university that has a welcoming and supportive attitude toward students with the disorder. The college you choose should go out of its way to facilitate the transition to college life. Work with your high school guidance counselor to hone in on colleges that have small class sizes, low student-to-professor ratios, and an emphasis on personalized attention.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose

There's no law saying you must disclose you have adult ADHD, but it may be the best choice for many people with adult ADHD. By disclosing your disability, you'll provide the admissions department with the information they need to make an informed decision about how well you're likely to fit in at their school. You may also be eligible for valuable assistance through the college's disabilities office.


College students diagnosed with ADHD may be eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you decide to disclose that you have adult ADHD, you will be required to submit documentation of your disorder. This may include records of psychological evaluations, the date of diagnosis, high school records that document special assistance you received, and a current IEP/504 plan.

Once you've decided on a college, register for disabilities services right away. To ensure you'll get the services you need from the start, apply for admissions and disabilities services at the same time.

College students with ADHD may qualify for the use of assistive technology to help them cope with their disability. These include voice-activated software, books on tape, personal organizers, and computer outlining programs.

Special Challenges for Students with Adult ADHD

In college, most of your life revolves around being able to concentrate, focus, retain knowledge, take good notes, schedule time for studying, and manage your time so that you get things done on time. Therefore, problems with executive functions can present a unique challenge.

Many students with ADHD overestimate what they can realistically accomplish in one semester. Others, away from the day-today assistance of parents and family for the first time in their lives, become overwhelmed with the number of decisions and choices facing them.

Tips for College Success

To ensure your college experience is a positive one, make sure you plan ahead. Address your inherent limitations and map out a plan of action to deal with them. Make sure you have access to learning services and academic support to help reduce stress and frustration.

If you have significant problems with executive functions, hire an ADHD coach who can help you organize your time and establish good study habits. Joining an ADHD support group or peer study group on campus may lead to meaningful friendships, help you feel more hooked into campus life, and give you a safe place to vent your fears and frustrations. If the college has a student health center, introduce yourself to the physician on staff.

If you're taking ADHD medications, ask your physician about extending them throughout the day by giving you multiple doses of the same medication or long- and short-acting medications. You'll also want to make sure your medication isn't prescribed in a way that would interfere with your sleep.

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