How can students with ADHD be successful in college?

A college student with ADHD can benefit from setting up a designated, individualized, homework area. Regardless of location, it needs to be free of distractions. For instance, many colleges allow students to reserve study rooms in libraries or dorms. Joining a study group helps many stay on task. Turn off cell phones and iPods prior to studying as this can be a huge distraction.

Try to study at the same time every day and stay committed to the schedule. Getting up early to study before class works better for many students. Prior to studying make a list of goals to accomplish during that study period.

IDEA covers children through age 21, which, for most students covers at least part of college. IDEA protects the educational rights of children with disabilities. However, it does not specifically name ADHD as a disability. This means it’s up to your school to determine whether your child has a learning disability and thus qualifies for special educational services.

In addition, even if your child’s elementary, middle, or high school determined that your child qualified, your child’s college may need to confirm that his ADHD creates a learning disability. Not to mention, it’s up to you to make sure you qualify and are receiving whatever services you require since colleges do not have to seek out students with disabilities.

Also, if your child had an Individual Education Program (IEP) in high school, it may be prudent to present it to the college when you ask for accommodations.

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner


While not all colleges are required to help students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), most public universities do have ongoing programs to help students with this disorder. To select the right college, it is important to review universities and colleges that provide excellent teachers and small class sizes. You may look at smaller schools that have professors who take a personal interest in students with ADHD. Getting to know your professor is important for you to feel confident in class. Also, if you know your professor, you may not hesitate to ask for additional help, if needed.

If you have ADHD and are attending college, it is important to know your rights. Any college or university that gets federal support must reasonably accommodate students who have ADHD. Here are some resources for college students with ADHD:

  • Student Disability Support Office
    If you have ADHD, contact the Student Disability Support Office at your college or university. The staff person at this office will answer questions you may have about teachers and classes and give you advice on taking tests at the university. In addition, the staff person will let you know about special seminars that may be available on topics such as study skills, time management, organization, and preparing for tests.
  • The Rehabilitation Act
    The Rehabilitation Act protects people with disabilities such as ADHD. Under this act, individuals with ADHD have the right to seek employment with the federal government's executive branch. People with ADHD may participate in federally funded activities and belong to groups that receive federal grants or monies. 
    Also, the Rehabilitation Act gives people with ADHD the right to be educated in public schools and some private schools, including the right to receive higher education.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
    The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) disallows any type of discrimination against people with disabilities, including ADHD, in the workplace and in institutions of higher learning. 
    The ADA protects people with disabilities if they work for a private employer with 15 or more employees. The ADA also protects people with disabilities in state and local government activities, which includes education and jobs. In addition, the ADA gives protection to individuals with disabilities in private schools and in educational institutions of higher learning.

Strategies to help college students with ADHD succeed:
College students with ADHD are disorganized because their behaviors of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity make it difficult for the brain to manage behavior. The brain's higher level of processes that manage behavior and learning activities are called the executive functions. Staying organized and on task depends on these executive functions. Because the student with ADHD has difficulty with executive functions, it makes it hard to stick to tasks such as paying attention in class, studying, preparing for an examination, or completing a class assignment.

  • Stay organized. One way to stay organized is to divide up your assignments into 15-minute segments. Set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes. During that time, focus on your studies, take notes, or get organized for class. When the timer goes off, you can stop, take a break, and walk around or stretch. Set the timer again for 15 minutes and focus on your studies. When it goes off, get up and move around. Using tools such as this can help you focus on your work without getting overwhelmed. Over time, you can increase your work time to 20 or 25 minutes at a time. 
  • Limit distractions. Try to limit unnecessary distractions by sitting at the front of the class so you can watch the teacher and hear clearly. When you are at home or in the dorm, shut down your e-mail and cell phone during study time, so you focus on the content you are reviewing. Also, you may want to tell your teachers that you have ADHD. Many universities let students with ADHD have longer times to take tests. 
  • Get a tutor. You may also benefit from a peer tutor who can go over the classwork with you and help you absorb the important facts and concepts. Be sure to take a lot of notes and write down when your projects are due.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.