ADHD accommodations for college students

Whether returning to school or enrolling for the first time, there are options.

stressed college student in front of a laptop

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 thereafter… 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. This 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, we often downplay our needs, believing that these arrangements are for people with "more visible and apparent disabilities". 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 there are options available to you.

Student accommodations for ADHD college students

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 be different in your country, and that the advice below may not be 100% applicable to you.

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, it’s advantageous to know your options and confirm you have reliable access to them. Let’s review categorized accommodations available to ADHD college students:

Lectures

  • Permission to record lectures for later reference and playback
  • Lecture videos (with subtitles!)
  • Note-taker assistance

Course materials

  • Early access to lesson plans and other materials
  • Availability of digital and/or physical copies of materials
  • Video materials and resources (with subtitles and transcripts!)
  • Written materials compatible with accessibility tools like screen-readers

Learning environment

  • Permission to use (quiet) fidget toys
  • Laptop, tablet, or other device use where otherwise not permitted
  • Reserved/priority seating
  • Ability to get up and move, especially for longer lectures and exams

Test-taking

  • Options for extended time to take exams
  • Quiet, distraction-free space to take tests
  • Online exam options (even for in-person classes)

Modifications

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 due dates, including breaking-up assignments

How to seek accommodations

If you had accommodations in K-12, you may be more familiar with this process, but a growing number of us are just beginning to manage our ADHD as adults. (Cries in “just turned 30.”) To us, living, working, and learning with ADHD is a new and daunting endeavor.

Your current or prospective school should have an office named something like Student Accessibility or Disability Services, and most have an outlined process available online. This includes forms from you and your practitioner(s) and scheduling a meeting to review what’s appropriate for your circumstances.

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.

Final thoughts

Just because you can struggle through courses doesn’t mean you should. You deserve to learn the way you learn best, and to 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!

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