Guest Expert

Preparing Students with ADHD for Success at College

Sending students with ADHD to college can be thrilling and nerve-wracking for parents, especially if they have been providing them with a lot of support.  Learning about the college environment, and preparing students for it, can alleviate everyone's stress and help to make sure students will be successful.

Specifically, parents need to understand that the disability services model in college is different from the one in high school. Following are a few facts – and strategies -- to help you navigate this transition and set your child up for success in college.

Fact – Students Who Want Accommodations Must Request Them

At college, students are not guaranteed academic accommodations simply because they received them in high school, and colleges don't have a way to identify students with ADD and ask whether they want support.  Therefore, accommodations must be requested by the students themselves (not by their parents). Typically, students simply have to complete a form, submit their disability documentation, and meet with a Disability Services Office staff member.  Students can apply for accommodations at any time, but the sooner, the better. If they do poorly on exams and apply afterward, colleges are not required to allow them to re-take these exams or drop their bad grades (and most don't).


  • Encourage your child to apply for all of his desired accommodations as soon as he enrolls at college. He can always choose not to utilize them if they aren't needed, but he doesn't want to be caught needing accommodations when it's too late – i.e. the night before his first exam.
  • Remind your child that typical college classes only have two or three exams - which means they carry much more weight - and that there are no “do-overs.”
  • Before she leaves for college, your child should check the school's Disability Services website and make sure she clearly understands the procedures.
  • If she doesn't understand any steps in the application procedure, she should contact the office with questions.

Fact - Accommodations at College May Be Different

Accommodations are available at all colleges - even the most competitive ones - but your student will have to start over in requesting them and getting them approved. IEPs and 504 plans have no legal validity after high school, and colleges are not required to provide any accommodations from previous schooling.  However, students will find certain accommodations, such as extended time for tests, permission to take exams in a room with limited distractions, priority seating, and priority registration (so that students can choose classes held when their attention is at its peak) are frequently granted.

Colleges may also offer students technology tools.  Students whose reading is slow or ineffective because of inattention may receive PDFs of their texts so that the computer can read them aloud, or MP3 files so students can use their players to listen to books.  Students with notetaking difficulties may be loaned a Smartpen, which makes filling in blanks in their notes easier, or they may be provided with a note-taker.

Because college expectations are different, other accommodations may not be available.  Many schools do not approve students for extended deadlines because they are only in classes 12-15 hours a week, and they are expected to do their assignments in their remaining time.  (In my experience, when students ask professors for an extension as a favor, they often have trouble meeting this later deadline, too, and then the professors get upset with them.)  Also, schools do not have to provide progress reports - either to parents or students themselves.  Colleges are not required to hire classroom aides to keep students on track.  Professors do not have to email assignments to students; schools have an online system where students can find all of their course-related information.


  • As your student moves through high school, work with the child study team to adjust his accommodations to prepare him for the college environment.
  • Make sure she learns to manage her time, creating interim deadlines for long-term projects.
  • Introduce him to the technological tools he might use so that he is familiar with them (many can be purchased on the Internet!).
  • Have her track her own grades so that she has a sense of her progress.
  • Teach him to sit close to teachers to help maintain his attention.
  • Consider buying a watch that vibrates at intervals to help refocus her during long lectures.

Fact - Support Services are Different from High School

At college, students with disabilities have access to the same type and frequency of tutoring as their classmates.  Some colleges offer learning specialists or ADHD coaching, but this is typically for a fee, and not everyone has such a program.  On the positive side, many colleges have special services all students can use, such as a writing center.


  • As your student conducts his college search, have him research the supports at the schools he is targeting.
  • Assure her that she will likely do fine with the general help available, as most students do.
  • If your student needs ADHD coaching, he can look for schools that offer this, but he should ask questions about the qualifications of these coaches, as the law does not stipulate what kind of training they have to have, even if schools are charging a fee for their services.


The best way to prepare students for college is to raise their awareness of the college environment, and have them work toward increasing levels of independent functioning.  Doing so will give them the confidence that they are ready to achieve success at college, and the skills they need to achieve it.

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