How ADHD Impacts College & University Students
The World Health Organization found that more than one in every seven college students has ADHD, making it important to understand the condition and its impact on the college and university experience. This guide aims to help you discover ways to recognize ADHD symptoms, seek support, and explore tailored resources to address your unique needs. With the right information and tools, you can confidently embrace your higher education journey and achieve your full potential.
Table of contents
What is ADHD?
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects people's ability to focus, pay attention, and control their impulses.
People with ADHD have differences in brain development and function that affect their executive functions, which are the mental processes that help us manage our thoughts, actions, and emotions. These processes are responsible for things like working memory, attention, planning, and organization.
Is ADHD a disability?
Yes, ADHD is considered a disability. Over time, ADHD has been stigmatized, with many people inaccurately attributing the symptoms to laziness, lack of motivation, or poor parenting. This stigma has led to misunderstanding, discrimination, and hesitancy to seek support or treatment among those with ADHD. It is crucial to challenge these misconceptions, raise awareness, and foster empathy for individuals with ADHD so that they can access the resources and support necessary for their well-being and success.
How is ADHD linked to college and university students?
It's important to recognize that ADHD isn't something that individuals suddenly develop when they enter post-secondary education. ADHD is a lifelong condition that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. However, the shift in the environment that higher education brings can make the symptoms of ADHD more apparent and challenging for these students.
College & university life demands greater independence, self-regulation, and autonomy than high school or earlier education. While high school often provides students with structured schedules and guidance from teachers and parents, post-secondary students are expected to manage their own time, keep track of deadlines, and complete assignments with less supervision.
Coursework in higher education tends to be more complex and requires heightened attention and focus. Students with ADHD may find it challenging to stay engaged with material that doesn't naturally captivate their interest or provide stimulation. Consequently, they might struggle with procrastination, miss deadlines, and receive lower grades.
Post-secondary education is a period of significant social and emotional growth. Students are typically adjusting to living away from home for the first time while also creating new relationships. Those with ADHD may experience challenges with social skills such as active listening, taking turns, and interpreting social cues. This can make it tougher for them to establish and maintain connections, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
ADHD is much more visible in higher education
In contrast to high school, college and university expose students to an environment where it becomes increasingly difficult to conceal their ADHD symptoms. Because of this, students with ADHD are more likely to receive lower grades during their time in university. It's essential to approach this topic with empathy and understanding as students with ADHD navigate the unique challenges that come with their academic experience.
Recognizing the signs of ADHD in post-secondary students
ADHD can manifest in various ways, and its signs can sometimes be subtle or mistaken for other issues. Understanding the signs of ADHD can help students identify potential challenges they or their peers might be facing. Below is a list of common signs of ADHD, along with specific examples that illustrate how these symptoms might appear in a college or university setting.
Difficulty sustaining attention: Students with ADHD may struggle to focus on lectures, reading assignments, or studying for extended periods. They might find themselves easily distracted or daydreaming during class, even when trying their best to pay attention.
Trouble with time management: Managing a busy school schedule can be particularly challenging for students with ADHD. They may frequently miss deadlines, underestimate how long tasks will take, or need help to balance their academic, social, and personal responsibilities.
Disorganization: A lack of organization can be a telltale sign of ADHD. Students with ADHD might frequently misplace important items, have cluttered living spaces, or struggle to keep track of assignments and class materials.
Impulsivity: Impulsive behaviour is another common symptom of ADHD. Students with ADHD may make hasty decisions without considering the consequences, interrupt others during conversations, or have difficulty waiting their turn in group discussions.
Procrastination: Students with ADHD often struggle with procrastination, putting off tasks until the last minute. They might have a hard time starting projects, frequently cram for exams, or turn in assignments late or incomplete.
Restlessness: ADHD can make it difficult for some students to sit still for extended periods, leading to fidgeting, tapping, or constantly shifting positions during class or while studying.
Difficulty with social interactions: Students with ADHD may struggle to pick up on social cues or follow conversational norms. This can lead to misunderstandings, difficulty making friends, or feelings of isolation.
Mood swings: ADHD can contribute to mood swings and emotional instability. Students with ADHD might experience sudden bouts of irritability, frustration, or sadness, which can impact their academic performance and personal relationships.
Recognizing these symptoms in oneself can be the first step toward seeking appropriate resources and accommodations to ensure academic and personal success.
Strategies for managing symptoms in higher education
Implementing various strategies to manage ADHD symptoms can make a significant difference in the college/university experience for students with ADHD. Here are some practical tips for coping with common challenges:
Prioritize time management: Create a daily schedule, including class times, study periods, extracurricular activities, and self-care routines. Use a digital or physical planner to track deadlines and assignments. Setting aside specific times for studying and breaks can help improve focus and productivity.
Develop organizational systems: Experiment with different methods to keep your living space, class materials, and assignments organized. Colour-coded folders, binders, or digital file systems can be beneficial in keeping track of important information and reducing stress.
Set realistic goals: Break larger tasks into smaller, achievable goals to avoid becoming overwhelmed. This can help improve focus, motivation, and productivity while reducing the likelihood of procrastination.
Study in short bursts: Students with ADHD often find it easier to maintain focus during shorter study sessions. Use the Pomodoro Technique or another time-management method to divide study time into focused intervals, followed by short breaks.
Establish a study partner or support network: Partner up with a classmate, friend, or outside source who can help keep you on track, remind you of deadlines, and provide encouragement. This collaborative approach can enhance your motivation, accountability, and overall academic success.
What to do if you suspect you have ADHD
If ADHD might be affecting your academic experience, it's essential to know how to take action. In this section, we'll guide you through a series of steps that will help you better understand your situation and access the resources you need to succeed. Let's work together to navigate your ADHD journey confidently.
Take a self-assessment
Taking a self-assessment can be an insightful and empowering way to learn more about yourself. Unlike quizzes or surveys, self-assessments feature specific questions designed to help you identify traits, symptoms, or characteristics that could be impacting your life. For instance, ADHD self-assessments focus on the most common symptoms of ADHD, asking you to rate their effect on your daily experiences.
Easily accessible on various health websites, self-assessments are a convenient and efficient way to gather valuable information about whether you should consider seeking a clinical assessment for ADHD. These tools are often employed in research studies and clinics to screen for ADHD, making them useful for better understanding your own symptoms.
One widely used self-assessment tool for adult ADHD is the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Screener (ASRS). Developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Workgroup on Adult ADHD, the ASRS is designed for individuals aged 18 and older, focusing on the most prevalent ADHD symptoms.
Are you interested in taking a 2-minute self-assessment online? We've adapted the questions from the ASRS to offer you follow-up guidance as you strive to better understand your symptoms.
Get a diagnosis
While online surveys, questionnaires, and symptom checklists can provide valuable insights into potential ADHD symptoms, they cannot replace a formal diagnosis. To obtain an accurate ADHD diagnosis, you'll need to consult a qualified healthcare professional experienced in diagnosing ADHD. Your campus's student wellness center could be an excellent starting point.
Scheduling an appointment for an ADHD assessment might pose a significant challenge for students. Limited availability of qualified providers, long waitlists, and high costs can be discouraging. However, as awareness of the need for more accessible care grows, alternative options like virtual assessments are gaining traction and popularity. By exploring various resources, you can find the option that best fits your needs.
Explore academic accommodations
Students with ADHD deserve equal opportunities to succeed in their academic pursuits. Academic accommodations are designed to address their unique challenges, such as concentration difficulties or time management issues, by creating a supportive learning environment tailored to their needs.
To access these accommodations, students can reach out to their campus's disability services office or student wellness center, where they can expect to find resources and assistance to guide them through the process. Students may need to provide documentation, such as a formal diagnosis or evaluation from a qualified professional. Once approved, they can collaborate with the disability services office to identify suitable accommodations, such as extended exam time, preferential seating, or note-taking assistance. With this compassionate support in place, students with ADHD can overcome challenges and flourish academically.
Successfully managing ADHD symptoms can lead to a positive change in students' lives, making them feel more at ease and less reliant on academic accommodations. With the right treatment, such as medication or behavioural therapy, students can enjoy improved focus, better organization, and a greater sense of control. As a result, they may discover that they no longer need certain accommodations or need them less often.
Understanding and managing ADHD in higher education can be challenging, but it's possible to thrive with the right approach. Explore these treatment options to find the best fit for your unique situation.
For individuals with ADHD, therapy can be a life-changing experience that provides the tools to construct effective coping strategies, refine organizational abilities, and address emotional obstacles. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized approach that zeroes in on and transforms negative thoughts and behaviours, making it particularly advantageous for managing ADHD symptoms. CBT encompasses a range of techniques, including setting SMART goals, using thought records, and implementing behavioural activation, all of which help clients develop self-awareness, resilience, and a more proactive approach to their ADHD challenges.
Complementing CBT, mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep-breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can contribute to improved concentration, diminished impulsivity, and enhanced emotional regulation, leading to better overall mental health.
Medication is another option to help control ADHD symptoms. Stimulant medications, such as Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse, are commonly prescribed and have been shown to improve focus and reduce impulsivity. They work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine, in the brain.
Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (Strattera), are also available and may be prescribed for individuals who do not respond well to stimulant medications or experience significant side effects.
It's important to consult with a healthcare provider with an understanding of ADHD treatment to determine the right medication and dosage for your needs. They can help you navigate potential side effects and monitor your progress, ensuring the most effective and safe treatment plan.
Positive lifestyle changes can enhance your overall well-being and help manage ADHD symptoms. These changes can work with other treatments to support brain function and improve daily functioning.
Regular exercise: Engaging in physical activity has been shown to improve focus, reduce stress, and increase the production of neurotransmitters associated with attention and mood regulation.
Adequate sleep: Prioritizing a consistent sleep schedule can help reduce fatigue and improve cognitive function, making it easier to manage ADHD symptoms.
Balanced diet: Consuming a nutrient-rich diet that includes whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats can support brain health and overall well-being.
Time management techniques: Developing time management skills, such as using calendars, to-do lists, and timers, can help improve organization and reduce procrastination.
Establishing routines: Creating daily routines for tasks like studying, self-care, and chores can provide structure and make it easier to manage ADHD symptoms.
Stress reduction: Finding healthy ways to reduce stress, such as meditation, journaling, or engaging in hobbies, can improve emotional well-being and help manage ADHD symptoms.
By combining these treatment options, post-secondary students with ADHD can take control of their symptoms, achieve academic success, and enjoy a fulfilling college and university experience.
Consider an ADHD diagnosis with Frida
If you think you have ADHD, a diagnosis is a vital first step to help you better understand your challenges and find ways to overcome them. Frida offers a free ADHD screening tool to help you determine if you might have ADHD and the option to connect with a qualified clinician who can provide you with a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Frida patients who need an even more affordable option and who make less than $50,000 a year can receive a 50% discount on the diagnosis fee.
The best way to learn more about our program and its requirements is to contact our support team at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will provide more information and let you know what you need to do to apply for financial assistance.
We believe in you!
College and university can be an exciting yet challenging time for everyone, especially if you're living with ADHD. It's perfectly normal to face obstacles, but know that you're not alone. You're part of an incredible community of fellow students learning and growing together.
Stay strong, stay positive, and always remember that you have the power within you to accomplish great things. This is just the beginning of an amazing journey, so embrace it, take charge of your ADHD, and let your potential flourish. You've got this!