Sunday, August 21, 2016

For High School Students with ADHD, is College the Best Next Step?

By April Gower-Getz, Chief Operating Officer, CHADD

The transition from high school to college can be challenging for any student. It can be particularly stressful for students affected by Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The good news is that students with ADHD are attending college in record numbers and achieving success. How do you help determine whether college is the next best step?
For students with ADHD, a great deal of planning must take place during junior and senior year of high school, taking into account both the student’s desires for college and career as well as his or her needs for academic support. High school guidance counselors and parents must keep several things in mind when helping to create a plan for any student with ADHD.
Higher education (including community college, four-year college, or university) may not be right for every student—at least not right after high school. What should students, parents, and guidance counselors consider when discussing the transition to college? Possibilities to explore can include attending college, a trade school, or joining the armed services. Students and their parents might consider waiting a year or more (called a “gap year”) before pursuing higher education, allowing students more time to develop the necessary life skills or maturity.
Meeting new people, participating in extracurricular opportunities, and the chance to have more flexibility in learning can make higher education an exciting adventure. But for students affected by ADHD, these circumstances can also make adjusting extremely difficult. The increased demands of college life, professors who have differing teaching styles and grading procedures, and decreased access to academic accommodations and supports, can result in more stress and greater academic difficulty for students with ADHD.
There are important things for students, parents and counselors to consider when planning for the transition from high school. Give careful consideration to whether or not the student is ready for higher education. Does the student have:
  • A personal desire or reasons for pursuing higher education?
  • Acceptance and understanding of ADHD and how it uniquely affects him or her?
  • Time management and planning skills he or she uses consistently?
  • Experience managing academics independently?
  • Other co-occurring conditions that might become worse by being away from home?
  • Good grades, with limited supervision and support from parents and teachers?
  • A preference for a traditional classroom learning environment or a hands-on learning experience?
If the student or parents answer yes to most of these questions, that student is ready for the college experience. If the answer is no to most of these questions, students and parents should consider a gap year to grow and mature, while participating in meaningful work or volunteer activities. Students may want to work with an ADHD coach or other professional during the gap year to decrease their dependence on parents and/or to grow important academic, self-determination, and self-management skills. Some students may want to take one or two courses at a community college to get a feel for the expectations of college study.

Finding the Right School
When students, their parents, and guidance counselors consider any postsecondary school, think carefully about whether or not the student can learn in that educational environment and what academic support programs it offers for students with ADHD. Determine whether the available coursework and majors align with the subject area or areas the student wants to study.

Succeeding in Higher Education
Students affected by ADHD will have more success setting goals, creating effective action plans, and mastering coping strategies if they proactively begin practicing readiness skills and utilizing supports and accommodations before leaving home. Students with greater access to learning services and academic support to help manage ADHD issues tend to experience lower levels of stress and frustration and achieve greater academic success. Working with an academic coach for ADHD or other professionals can be critical to boosting both academic and social success. When students are aware of and involved in addressing ADHD issues, they are better able to deal with the academic and social pressures of higher education.
Resources for Students and Parents
The following two directories may be helpful in locating the right college for a student with ADHD. Both can be found in school or public libraries.
  • Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders, sixth edition. An online directory can be found at
  • The K&W Guide to Colleges: For Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder
Online resources include:

  • College Board Find information on seeking accommodations for tests administered through the College Board, including SAT, SAT Subject Tests, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and Advanced Placement® Exams.
  • Educational Testing Service Disability Documentation Policies ETS administers the GRE and related graduate level exams.
  • Heath Resource Center The Heath Resource Center at The George Washington University is the national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities.
  • The National Resource Center on ADHD: A Program of CHADD. For more information, visit or call 1-800-233-4050.

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