Don’t you hate it when you drop out of college four times and — oh. Just me?
Yeah, I’ll admit it: I’ve hyped myself up to finish my degree, only to drop out shortly after that… a few times. My go-to explanations always involved finances and balancing work commitments. These days, I attribute a lot to what was once undiagnosed, untreated, and unmanaged ADHD.
Over the past year, I’ve learned to better understand and manage my ADHD, which played a critical role in confidently deciding it was time to (finally) get my degree.
(For real this time!)
ADHD can complicate everything from test-taking to note-taking, but many of us don’t know about the accommodations we're entitled to.
When the topic of accommodations comes up, imposter syndrome can make ADHDers downplay their needs, believing that these arrangements are for people with a "more visible and apparent disability.” We may even think, “Well, I made it this far without any help,” or, “This feels like cheating.”
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether returning to school or enrolling for the first time, it’s important to know that options are available to you. And remember, disability accommodations aren’t someone doing you a favor; they’re the law, so don’t be afraid to ask for reasonable accommodations.
Let’s dive in and learn what accommodations are available for students with ADHD in college.
Disclaimer: This article was written from the perspective of a citizen of the United States. If you reside elsewhere, please be aware that accommodation procedures may differ in your country and that the advice below may not be 100% applicable to you.
Too long; didn’t read
- Students with ADHD can apply for accommodations to assist with accessing course materials, optimizing the learning environment, or even changing the testing protocol.
- Getting ADHD accommodations typically requires a diagnosis and submitting related paperwork to your school.
- Remember to apply for accommodations as soon as possible, as processing may take time.
- Disability accommodations exist to help you. Don’t be ashamed to use them.
Feeling overwhelmed by your ADHD in college? Inflow’s learning modules can help you through school stressors like burnout, time management, and studying smarter so you can get the most out of your university experience. Get started with our quick ADHD assessment!
19 accommodations for ADHD college students
With recent increased adaptation to online learning, some accommodations - like recorded lectures - have become more common, if not standard. Some are unique to in-person learning. In either case, knowing your options and confirming you have reliable access to them is advantageous.
Accommodations for lectures and seminars
- Permission to record lectures for later reference and playback
- Lecture videos (with subtitles!)
- A note-taker to write for you
- Permission to use a calculator or spell-checker
- Early access to lesson plans and other materials
- Availability of digital or physical copies of textbooks or other materials
- Video materials and resources (with subtitles and transcripts!)
- Written materials compatible with accessibility tools like screen readers
- Permission to use (quiet) fidget toys to reduce anxiety
- Laptop, tablet, or other device use where otherwise not permitted
- Reserved or priority seating (not necessarily at the front of the class, either! Seats facing away from windows may help eliminate distractions, too)
- Ability to get up and move, especially for longer lectures and exams
Accommodations for tests and exams
- Options for extended time to take exams
- Quiet, distraction-free space to take tests away from other students
- Online exam options (even for in-person classes)
Modifications differ from accommodations in that they may actually alter course materials or even the path to completion for your degree program.
- Priority registration
- Course substitutions
- Reduced course load without forfeiting full-time status
- Adjusted deadlines, including breaking up assignment submission dates
How to get ADHD accommodations in college
If you had accommodations in K-12, you may be more familiar with this process, but many of us are just beginning to manage our ADHD as adults. (Cries in “just turned 30.”)
- Get an ADHD diagnosis: Easier said than done, but having an ADHD diagnosis shows the school you qualify for accommodations. Some schools may require your ADHD assessment to be completed in the last five years.
- Go to your school’s website and look for an office like Student Accessibility or Disability Services. Most offices have an outlined process online, including forms from you and your practitioner(s) and scheduling a meeting to review what’s appropriate for your circumstances.
- Submit any needed paperwork to your school. Schools require paperwork like a letter from a licensed clinic, an educational history, a description of limitations, and a list of needed accommodations. If you had accommodations in high school (also called a 504), include a copy of those details.
- If you’re rejected, you can appeal. If you are denied receiving accommodations, contact the disabilities office ASAP! Often, a rejection is because the office is missing information.
If you keep running into issues, you can contact the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) to assist you or contact the Office for Civil Rights if you feel you’re being discriminated against.
You can apply for accommodations at any point during your education
It may take time to process the paperwork, so it’s ideal to do so before a term begins. But - if you don't get around to it before the semester starts, you haven't lost your chance. Just get started on the process ASAP!
Check out the US Department of Education’s guide to the ADA for a detailed context of your rights, including discrimination protections and your right to confidentiality.
The ADA also has a detailed overview of requirements for testing.
Do I need an ADHD diagnosis to get ADHD accommodations?
You must disclose and document your ADHD diagnosis to get accommodations at the college level.
If you aren’t officially diagnosed and have no interest in doing so, organizations have no legal obligation to accommodate you. However, you can ask professors individually for specific accommodations, like using a laptop in class or the ability to record lectures.
Just because you can struggle through courses doesn’t mean you should. You deserve to learn how you know best and feel confident about your education. This includes setting yourself up for success and finding enjoyment in the process along the way.
Consider the self-esteem boost you’ll have when you finish a big project, ace an exam, and, yes… graduate — all in a way more conducive to your ADHD! You’ve heard the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” It's time to take advantage of what’s available to you!