Tips To Succeed In College When You Have ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ADHD is often diagnosed during childhood, though symptoms of the condition typically last through adulthood, affecting around 4% of the adult population (per WebMD).

ADHD can look different in childhood and adulthood. PsychCentral explains that while children with ADHD often display obvious signs of hyperactivity, boisterousness, and trouble focusing at school, adults with the disorder may be overlooked. Symptoms of adult ADHD can include restlessness, impulsivity, trouble with organization, and stress management issues.

Dealing with the condition as an adult can come with some unique challenges, and this may be especially true during life transitions like entering college. The simultaneous start of higher education and adulthood marks a particularly difficult milestone for people with ADHD, as noted in a 2022 research article published in BMC Psychiatry.

However, going to college can also be an opportunity for young adults with the condition to explore their interests and thrive in a new environment. Try these tips to flourish — not flounder — in college with ADHD.

Find university resources

There's no reason to struggle alone in college with ADHD. According to ADDitude Magazine, many colleges are equipped with an Office of Disability Services that's available to help students who have ADHD and other disabilities. It can typically provide accommodations for those who have documentation of their diagnosis. Accommodations vary depending on personal needs and can include adjustments like receiving extensions on assignments and being permitted to record live lectures (per the Attention Deficit Disorder Association).

Besides accommodations, many schools also offer other services such as tutoring, coaching, writing help, and tech-based study solutions. Even if exploring these options may appear to only add more to a busy student's plate, they can go a long way in managing ADHD. As Child Mind Institute recommends, it's best to seek university services far before grades take a nosedive. Better yet, speak to the Office of Disability Services before the semester even begins.

Practice smart study habits

Among the most daunting parts of entering college for many people with ADHD are the packed class schedules and challenging coursework. However, a few tips can keep students on top of their studies and ready to ace assignments.

First, students with ADHD should identify if they work better with others or alone. One 2016 research article published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that studying in a group of peers can improve engagement with course material for college students with ADHD. Groups offer collaboration and comprehension checks while keeping study sessions fun. For students who prefer to study alone, however, these groups may not be beneficial. Instead, identify a go-to study location such as a library, the lobby of a quiet building, or a museum to get away from noisy roommates and other distractions.

When struggling to focus on homework, try the Pomodoro Technique. According to PsychCentral, this technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes of focus time followed by regular short breaks. This technique makes study and homework sessions less overwhelming by breaking them into manageable time blocks.

Finally, beat study boredom by using colored highlighters and marking materials as you go. Healthline explains that interacting with study materials this way may boost focus and even dopamine levels, which tend to be lower than average in people with ADHD.

Skip the all-nighters

College is full of opportunities to stay up all night, from off-campus parties to cramming before a big test. Sleep loss isn't healthy for anyone, but it can be especially detrimental for students with ADHD.

A lack of sleep can make ADHD symptoms worse, hindering motor skills and wrecking the ability to focus (per WebMD). A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports also confirmed that young adults with ADHD are more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation.

Besides forgoing late-night parties and all-night study sessions, students with ADHD should create a sleep routine, says The Sleep Doctor. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at night, and limit exposure to devices that emit blue light before bed. Staying active during the day may also make it easier to fall asleep once the lights are out.

Medications used to treat ADHD may, in some cases, interfere with a good night's rest (per WebMD). A doctor may suggest a different medication or dosage to improve sleep quality.

Get organized

Chronic disorganization is a hallmark of adult ADHD (per PsychCentral). Juggling multiple projects, deadlines, student groups, and other college activities requires a bit of organization to keep it all together.

Students with ADHD can benefit from a wide variety of organizational tools. The Mini ADHD Coach recommends having a task planner to divvy up large assignments into smaller to-do list items, as well as a calendar to visualize important dates and deadlines. Digital apps can also be handy for those who prefer to have reminders available in their pocket at any time.

Understood, an organization for people who learn and think differently, suggests that college students with ADHD have a time management system to stay organized. This includes creating a plan for each week, setting aside routine study time blocks, and regularly updating daily to-do lists.

These strategies may require a bit of effort. However, they can make all the difference when it comes to making assignment deadlines and remembering to show up to important lectures.

Be mindful of substance use and abuse

According to Alcohol Rehab Guide, around 80% of college students consume alcohol, and half of those students admit to binge drinking. Clearly, drinking is a common part of the college experience, but it's one that students with ADHD should be cautious of. Alcohol can make ADHD symptoms worse, and people with the condition tend to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol (per Healthline). Additionally, alcohol may interfere or interact with ADHD medications, worsening side effects for some.

Students should also be careful to not share prescribed ADHD medications with friends — which is a crime treated by the law in the same way as selling an illicit drug, according to the organization CHADD. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs highlighted this issue, noting that 54% of undergraduate students prescribed medication for ADHD had been asked by a peer to sell, trade, or give away their medication. Avoid giving in to the pressure by keeping prescriptions private and stored away from roommates and friends.