College is not designed to help any student with ADHD succeed! In fact, it’s probably the worst of environments. It is designed for people who can be disciplined, organized,and focused over long periods of time. Very few college professors have ADHD. Most of them teach as they were taught during long academic careers that resulted in a Ph.D. Primary modes of instructions rely on lectures, papers, and student presentations as the norm and even if the professor is ahead of the curve in terms of teaching style it may still be very difficult for the ADHD college student to be able to stay focused. Reading for long stretches of time to complete required reading from the syllabus and getting prepared for the tests, which tend to be fewer and more important in college can be difficult. Given changes in diet, sleep, and living conditions in most dorms, it’s a wonder any college student with ADHD can succeed.
So what can the ADHD college student do to succeed in a typical college academic environment?
- Take fewer courses, especially your freshman year. Colleges want you to take a full load. That’s THEIR need, not yours. Very few students entering college as freshmen complete their college education in four years. So even if you get a few hours behind the expected 16 hours per semester, you can find times to make those up with short courses, summer courses or just taking long to complete that bachelors degree. So what if it takes six years? The point is to get finished, not to get finished in four years, and taking three or four courses allows you to put more effort into those courses and to be successful.
- Be sure and monitor your health. Diet is especially important to students. You may be battling the “freshmen 15” but you also need 25 grams of protein both at breakfast and lunch in order to be able to pay attention. Without it, your brain just won’t work correctly. Do the research. Write down what you are eating. Give yourself a grade on your diet.
- Monitor your exercise. Focus and attention are about how the brain functions and nothing can get blood flowing in your brain better than some aerobic exercise. Run a mile. Walk. Play ultimate Frisbee. Get the blood flowing. Then go study. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
- Take courses when you are awake. If you are sleepy in an 8 a.m. course….don’t take any early courses. Your grades will improve dramatically! Pay attention to yourself and your level of alertness. Take courses when you are the most alert.That’s going to be different for every person.
- Learn about your ADHD and what teaching style helps you to learn. If you are struggling in a class, take the initiative and go visit with your professor. Most of them have great latitude in designing their courses and they can adjust at will. Most professors would be happy to help or to adjust projects and readings to help you pass their class. Their goal is to help YOU learn. More than likely they’ll be impressed with your desire to do well. Don’t wait until it’s too late or you’ve failed the mid-term. Talk to them early in the semester.
- Choose a course of study that takes advantage of your ADHD. Career satisfaction is often based on careful matching of personality with career choice. People tend to stay in careers longer and be more satisfied if their career matches both their temperament and their interests. Becoming an accountant, an attorney or a writer may not be the best choice. Anything that requires careful and specific attention to detail may not be possible for someone with ADHD. Theater, exercise science or becoming a physical therapist or a coach might suit you better. There’s no shame in that, in fact, it’s smart. There are multiple careers that rewards activity rather than discourages it.
- Realize it may take you MORE time to get your work done than the average student. As a professor I expected my students to spend one hour out of class for every hour in class. Those who did tended to do well. Those spending less fared less well academically. College students with ADHD may need to spend more time in comparison, and while that makes it more difficult it’s also a reality. They question to ask is if the academic success worth the extra effort.
Finally, know that you can succeed. It may be more difficult. It may take more time.You may do less well academically, but the point is to get the degree. When you are in the adult world of work no one will ever ask you what your GPA in college was. All they want to know is if you FINISHED.
Take advantage of accomodations. Did you know that the ACT test will give 50% more time to take the test for ADHD students. That can make a huge difference when there is time pressure! Let us help with that.