ADHD in College Students
Updated: Aug 23
College Students with ADHD: If you’re a college student who thinks they might have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, formerly known as ADD), or a parent or loved one who thinks their child might have ADHD, read on for more information.
ADHD and College Students
College can be hard even without ADHD, but having ADHD brings unique challenges for college students. In fact, studies show that college students with ADHD have lower grades and higher dropout rates. Because more than half of children with ADHD will attend a 2- or 4-year university, it’s important to understand factors unique to college students.
"College students with ADHD are likely to experience significant academic difficulties throughout their college years, are at higher than average risk for dropping out of college and require academic support prior to and throughout their college years." - George DuPaul
Prevalence of ADHD in College Students
ADHD is very common amongst college students. Prevalence rates of ADHD are around 5%. Interestingly, at least 25% of college students receiving disability services have ADHD. This is great news as it means that students with ADHD are increasingly likely to advocate for themselves and for ADHD college accommodations.
“When I was younger I didn’t know I had ADD and I really struggled with some classes all the way through grade school, high school and junior college… I continued to struggle in some of my classes and it was then that I was suggested to get tested for ADD…. But, thanks to my diagnosis of ADD, I am able to know why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. I am learning how to meet these challenges and improve myself and be successful.” - Jerome H
ADHD and College Admissions
“Do colleges care if you have ADHD?” “Should you disclose to a college that you have ADHD during the application process?”are questions students ask me frequently. The answers are… yes and no.
You are not required to disclose to a college that you have ADHD. There are legal protections in place that prohibit colleges and universities from discriminating against a qualified applicant and denying admission because of a disability, including ADHD. Many students choose to disclose their ADHD on their college application as a vehicle for explaining problematic grades, lower SAT scores, etc. Some students even write their college essay about living with ADHD! Disclosing your ADHD diagnosis can provide colleges with a richer picture of who you are. However, some college admission departments unfortunately don’t understand ADHD fully and might (illegally) discount your application if you disclose. Instead of viewing this as a negative, you can see this as a way of identifying which colleges have stronger and systematic accommodations in place once you arrive and accordingly which colleges you are more likely to succeed in.
ADHD College Accommodations
Colleges are required by law to provide ADHD accommodations. If you know you have ADHD, you should research the disability services departments of colleges that you apply to. Some colleges are well-known for their services (such as University of Arizona’s SALT Center) and it might be beneficial for you to attend a college with strong disability services.
It’s easiest to receive ADHD accommodations in college if you are entering with a 504 or IEP from high school, but many students have undiagnosed ADHD in college initially, and only realize they might have it during their college career. I strongly encourage parents and students in high school to get evaluated for ADHD while still in high school if you think you or your child might have ADHD- in part because you can also receive accommodations on the SAT and ACT if you have a diagnostic report with accommodation recommendations dated within three years of the SAT or ACT date.
College accommodations for ADHD are similar to those of high school ADHD accommodations. In both cases if you receive a diagnosis of ADHD you are eligible for a 504 plan or an IEP (Individualized Education Program). For more information about what is a 504 plan or what is an IEP, this link provides a great legal perspective: though a general rule of thumb is that an IEP provides a higher level of services and support from the school than the 504.
College ADHD Accommodations may include:
Extra time on tests (time-and-a-half is quite common)
Note-taking or reading services
Written instructions from professors
Reduced assignment load
A quiet place to take tests
“In Pixar’s movie Up, there’s a talking dog named Dug. Simple things completely distract him. He’ll blurt out “squirrel” when he sees one, and drop everything to watch it. Because of ADHD I’m sometimes like Dug. When I take a test in a big lecture hall with a hundred people, every time someone gets up, coughs, or even just shifts, I have a classic Dug “squirrel!” moment. And once something grabs my attention, it’s very difficult for me to shift my focus back to the test. So the accommodation that helped me the most is taking my tests in a quiet, distraction-free room with only a few other students.”- Arthi