Ten Steps for Student Success for College and Adult Students with ADHD

A ten-step survival guide to help students with ADHD succeed and avoid pitfalls, circumvent problems, and ensure peak performance.

A ten-step survival guide to help students with ADHD succeed and avoid pitfalls, circumvent problems, and ensure peak performance.Whether completing a GED, entering college, returning for graduate work, or passing licensing exams, adults and adolescents with ADHD face formidable challenges. Regardless of how bright they are, many post-secondary students fail because they lack advanced reading, learning, and self-management strategies. In addition, they lack a systematic approach and access to required resources and support.

ADHD students who do succeed have found experts to provide structure, support, advocacy, and guidance. They learned advanced reading, learning and self-management strategies that were customized according to their needs and the requirements of their courses. They learned a systematic approach to survive and thrive in college. Such services are important for all students with ADHD but are especially critical for those who have previously failed or who are returning to school after many years.

This checklist, with ten steps, is a handy guide to help avoid problems and enjoy academic success.

1.Develop a plan. Write academic goals and an action plan based on record of achievement file and with the special needs co-ordinator at school and the local collage.

2.Develop a support network. Talk to family, friends, and others with. Work closely with school resources (e.g., special needs co-ordinator and personal tutor).

3.Engage in self-advocacy. At the college level, students are granted accommodations only if they request them. When first talking about things, many students overestimate their skills, underestimate the challenges, and ignore the benefits of accommodations. They don't request accommodations because they are concerned about looking stupid or not being fair to other students. They forget that they are entitled to accommodations under the law. Only you can ensure that you have access to the services and resources that can contribute to your success. Discuss accommodations with an advisor in the disabilities office. Obtain a letter that lists all "reasonable" accommodations that are recommended in your statement of educational special need report. The letter should be presented to, and discussed with, the instructor of each course within the first two weeks of the term. Conferences are best held during office hours, not before or after class.

4.Meet academic responsibilities. Learn how to access campus library, technology, health, and recreational resources. Go to class. Arrange effective conditions for learning. For example, sit where there are the least distractions and the best clarity to see the visuals and hear the lecturer. Schedule two hours of study for each hour of college credit. Discuss the requirements and strategies for each course with the instructor early in the term. Study when you are most alert and rested. Find a comfortable but distraction-free study environment. Relax for a few minutes, perhaps by looking over the newspaper or a cartoon book. Break study periods into 15 to 30 minute segments with 5 to 10 minute breaks. Provide yourself with recognition and rewards as you complete tasks.

5. Establish schedules and routines. Review the syllabus for each class several times during the term. Schedule the dates for all tests, papers, reports and projects on a four month or academic year calendar. Use a daily and/or weekly calendar to schedule study times. Check off each assignment as it is completed. Create a study routine (e.g., go to the library after class to review notes). Some experimentation and discussion is required to develop a workable schedule. Scheduling and subsequent monitoring of progress often requires the assistance of an academic coach, counsellor, tutor, or classmate.

6. Use advanced reading, learning, note taking and test taking strategies. Contact a tutor, academic coach, or student services to deal with slow reading rate, poor comprehension, lack of test taking skill, test anxiety, inability to begin or finish papers, etc. Read texts and review class notes within 24 hours of lectures. Use mapping, visualization, and mnemonics to enhance comprehension and retention. Create or obtain sample questions to practice exam taking and to develop confidence, speed, and accuracy. Contact the tutor to discuss performance on tests or papers.

7.Use active self-regulation strategies to manage thoughts, behaviour, time, and tasks. Be specific about how to replace bad habits with positive action in order to decrease stress and increase productivity. Monitoring progress and using feedback to modifying study habits is critical to success. This, too, is an area in which an academic coach or advisor from student services can provide valuable guidance, support and skill development. If something goes wrong, tell yourself that such events are expected and that, in such cases, students are supposed to contact tutors, counsellors, and or student services.

8.Maintain a healthy life style. Eat smart, exercise regularly, practice stress management, and include rest, relaxation, and recreation. Students who do not take care of themselves often become ill just when they can least afford to miss class or study time. Their illnesses occur more frequently, last longer, and require more bounce-back time.

9.Be proactive and avoid crises. Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Expect the inevitable ups and downs. Assume that bad habits and ADHD-related symptoms will create significant barriers to academic success. List possible warning signs of trouble (e.g., 2 incomplete assignments in a row, procrastination when assigned a paper or project.) Have a plan to manage a failure or difficulty. As the term unfolds, symptoms such as procrastination, depression, anxiety, insomnia, medication non-compliance, perfectionism, irritability, and anger do not dissipate. More commonly, the stress, fear, and fatigue related to college work exacerbate problems and propel students into giving up or failing. As soon as problems emerge, talk to instructors, use school resources, contact your support network, academic coach, or tutor.

10. Have an emergency plan to actively deal with crises. Do not assume that you are lazy, crazy, or dumb. Do assume that ADHD-related difficulties are problems to be solved, not personality defects. To deal actively with a crisis means that you admit that problems exist and find help. Consider short-term therapy when things are not working out. Research indicates that cognitive and cognitive behaviour therapy is helpful with ADHD-related problems. Locate a therapist who has experience working with adults and adolescents with ADHD and college level requirements. Speak to the Student Services to see if they have any details or contacts or speak to a local ADHD Support Group.

About the author: Geraldine Markel, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist specializing in learning and performance and author of Managing Your Mind® Coaching and Seminars.


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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 16). Ten Steps for Student Success for College and Adult Students with ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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