Going into college, starting a new semester, or even just starting a new class can invoke a host of feelings and each transition is difficult in its own way. There might be anxiety about test-taking, confusion about how to navigate your schedule and pick course, frustration towards peers who seem to do nothing and pass anyways, and exhaustion from every all-nighter from the last year that you said wouldn’t happen again… and then did. All of these obstacles can lead to avoidance and the feeling that maybe college just isn’t the right fit for you. That doesn’t have to be the case!
ADHD isn’t a sentence to a life without an education if that’s the future you see for yourself. You don’t have to sacrifice your goals. With the right tools and plans, your semester can be much easier and keep you on the path to graduation.
College Accommodations are supportive measures designed to assist students in overcoming challenges related to their education, including those with ADHD. Often times, students feel like accommodations aren’t “meant for them” or feel hesitant about reaching out to the Office for Student Disabilities at their college. But they are there for a reason! Accommodations aren’t special privileges; they are there to help level the playing field and create an equal opportunity to succeed. The classroom was made with a neurotypical student in mind. Accommodations help make the classroom with a neurodivergent student in mind. Take advantage of these opportunities!
There are a ton of helpful accommodations ADHD students can benefit from in college. Here are just a few examples:
Your college or university may have their own guidelines for how to approach accommodation requests, as well as what accommodations are offered. So, the following steps are general guidelines; it’s always best to reach out to the Disability Services office first to check on these policies.
Your school may require you to present a formal diagnosis or letter from a medical provider requesting accommodations on your behalf. Not all schools require this, but you should be prepared to have this conversation with the office around their policies and procedures.
That said, some professors are happy to work out an arrangement with students themselves, without having to involve the administration. So, you may decide to try that route first. However, if you do run into a professor who’s a little less understanding, having things squared away officially through Disability Services means that even stubborn professors will be required to offer any accommodations you’re approved for.
It is completely normal to feel like your navigating uncharted territory, but you aren’t the first student to ask for accommodations, and you won’t be the last! If you need assistance getting connected with Student Disability Services, your assigned academic advisor may be able to help facilitate a meeting or give you an email that you can use to reach out. Don’t forget your college/university likely has a dedicated webpage with this information on it as well.
Sometimes you know you have access to accommodations, but no one has provided you with the information of what accommodations might be available. Starting the conversation can be uncomfortable if you aren’t sure what to say or ask for.
A good start is trying to remember what difficulties you experienced in previous classes. Or, try to pinpoint what parts of a course tend to make you the most anxious. For example, do you struggle most with taking notes? Paying attention to lectures? Test-taking? Writing long papers, or breaking down long-term projects?
Take some time to jot down a list of the courses you’ve struggled with most in the past, and which parts of those courses were most challenging. With those things in mind, you can come up with potential solutions.
Need more brainstorming fuel? Check out this article, where real students share the accommodations they used to succeed.
This one can be tricky because your major likely has core courses that are non-negotiable and only offered on specific days or times. In this case, you may just have to pull out all the strategies and skills to make it through a difficult course or evaluate if the major is a good fit for you (some careers are more suited for a neurodivergent than others). However, you’ll likely have a catalog of electives to select from to get your remaining credits and some of your core courses might offer a range of dates and times.
Let’s take a look at different aspects to consider:
A Word of Warning: Be strategic about when you complete the most difficult courses!
It can be tempting to push off registering for tough courses. However, if you continuously do this, you’ll likely be facing an incredibly difficult senior year or last semester. It might end up feeling down right impossible to complete any work, and you may put yourself at-risk of not passing one of the courses. Not only will this delay graduation, but it’ll cost you the extra money of those credits. Yikes!
Take a look at the classes required to graduate and identify which ones are likely to be the most taxing for you. Once you have your list, try to space out those courses over the semesters to balance the workload more evenly across the years. Often times, courses will list what semesters they are available to take (fall, spring, summer, winter) and you can use that information to your advantage as well. Can’t plan to take Calculus II in the fall of your sophomore year if it’s only offered in the spring!
You’ve selected your courses, you’ve gotten proof from Disability Services that you qualify for accommodations, and you have an idea of what accommodations you might want for this specific class. The last step is to have the conversation with your instructor. Disclosing having ADHD can be nerve-wracking, and it may not be something you’ve done before in an academic setting. But it’s the first step in advocating for yourself - a crucial life skill - and it can make your semester much easier in the long run.
You may feel more comfortable reaching out over email first to give them a brief overview of what you’d like to discuss at the next office hours or ask to arrange a meeting to go over the details. This email should include:
Your professor may also elect to discuss this over email - that works as long as it works for you!
If you feel like you need a face-to-face conversation to accurately discuss your concerns with the semester and what strategies would help you be most successful. It is okay to advocate again that you’d like a chance to speak in person and that written communication tends to not be the best mode of conversation for you.
In the vibrant tapestry of college life, navigating the intricate threads of academia can be both exhilarating and daunting - especially for those facing the unique challenges of ADHD. However, armed with the insights shared here, you possess a compass to steer your course toward smoother semesters and triumphant graduation.
Remember, college accommodations aren't mere lifelines; they're the wings that empower you to soar beyond obstacles. Embrace the resources at your disposal, from extended exam time to priority registration, and forge connections with professors. Your future is calling – and with the right tools, plans, and support, you're more than equipped to answer that call with resounding success.