This guide helps students and their communities understand ADHD and its effects, offers information on managing ADHD's effects, and concludes with a list of scholarships that students with ADHD may apply for.

Understanding ADHD and Recognizing the Symptoms

A mental health professional can screen patients for ADHD. While the disorder most often shows up in children, many people first get diagnosed as adults. Symptoms include inattentiveness, inappropriate activity levels, talking too much, or often losing items associated with daily life. People with ADHD often struggle in school and can find college overwhelming.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a common mental disorder affecting both children and adults. Characteristics of the disorder include impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. These characteristics may create problems for children at home, in school, and with friends. As adults, people with ADHD may struggle with romantic relationships, friendships, and job roles since those require sustained attention and social finesse.

What Are the Different Types of ADHD?

Inattentive

Inattentive ADHD inhibits a person's ability to focus. People with the inattentive type of ADHD may show an inability to pay attention to details. These people may make many careless mistakes or forget information they knew just a few minutes ago. Lectures, long conversations, and deep reading may hold particular challenges for people with inattentive ADHD. ADHD in college students symptoms include:

  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Dislikes or avoids tasks requiring sustained mental effort and focus
  • Has poor time-management skills, resulting in continual missed deadlines
  • Often loses things needed for daily life such as keys, eyeglasses, or notepads
  • Work is characterized by many careless errors or mistakes

Hyperactive-Impulsive

People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD often feel and exhibit a restlessness that can wear out other people along with themselves. This form of ADHD can manifest itself either as a lack of focus on the responsibilities and objects at hand or as an inappropriately singular fixation on a single topic, idea, or interest. Symptoms include the following:

  • Runs, climbs, paces, or jumps up and down when it is inappropriate
  • Interrupts others when they are talking
  • Blurts out answers, sometimes before the question is complete
  • Finishes other people's sentences for them
  • Takes over other people's tasks or things without asking permission or giving warning

Combination

Combination ADHD blends together the two previously mentioned types of ADHD, inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. As such, combined ADHD affects focus, movement, and impulse control. People with combined inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD show both the inattention and hyperactivity levels of their single-type peers. Like other forms of ADHD, it affects more boys than girls. Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to stay seated in the workplace or classroom
  • Fidgeting, squirming, tapping feet or hands
  • Talking too much
  • Lack of follow through on chores, schoolwork, job duties, or other responsibilities
  • Forgets daily tasks such as paying bills, completing homework, keeping appointments, or returning phone calls

What Causes ADHD?

The direct cause of ADHD remains something of a mystery. Nevertheless, researchers have determined certain risk factors for the disorder, including genetics, environment, and human development. Heredity may be the primary determining factor. For instance, about 75% of people with ADHD claim a close relative with the disorder. But premature birth, a mother who smoked during her pregnancy, and brain injury can also serve as contributing factors.

How Can ADHD Impact Academic Success in College?

ADHD can interfere with learning in college and beyond. While no two individuals are the same, students with ADHD face similar realities that can impact college success. Not only can academic achievement prove elusive, but social and emotional development may also seem challenging for many students with attention disorders. Some common effects of ADHD are listed below.

  • Academic Underachievement

    According to research, students with ADHD are less likely to graduate from either high school or college than their peers. Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and low impulse control may contribute to this outcome.

  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse

    Students with ADHD report a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse than their peers, being 2.5 times more likely to use marijuana and six times more likely to use other drugs.

  • Difficulties in Dating

    Adults with ADHD often find it difficult to secure and maintain a romantic relationship due to symptoms such as irritability, forgetfulness, and impulsive talking. These symptoms contribute to high-conflict scenarios in dating.

  • High Job Turnover and Unemployment

    ADHD may hamper job searches and interviews, leading to long-term unemployment. Once employed, people with ADHD can find retaining a job difficult due to lack of focus.

  • Difficulty with Life Skills

    People with ADHD may struggle to complete everyday activities such as paying bills, doing laundry, and budgeting money. Real-life struggles often arise from low time-management skills.

Navigating College Applications and Managing ADHD in School

Students with ADHD may face extra challenges when navigating the application process and managing a collegiate workload. Fortunately, most higher education institutions along with other organizations provide an array of ADHD accommodations in college to help people with attention disorders succeed in school, including counseling, academic support, and application assistance.

Expert Advice: Applying to and Choosing a College with ADHD

Expert Name: Chelsea Mariah Stellmach

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Chelsea Mariah Stellmach moved to Singapore and began working as an admissions consultant. She worked with hundreds of American and international students to garner acceptances to universities on five continents. In less than a year, she excelled to the business development manager-college admissions position, where she directed and trained consultants for the Singapore, Mumbai, and Shanghai offices while continuing to work with students as a senior admissions consultant.

She also specialized in medical and dental school admissions along with some graduate program applications. Her students have gone on to earn acceptance to Ivy league schools and other prestigious institutions such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, Duke, Oxford, and Cambridge. She is set to graduate from the college counseling certificate program with UCLA this June after completing her practicum with iMentor in the Chicago Public School District. She now runs her own IEC practice called KaiZenith Admissions Consulting.

Visit Schools with Resources in Mind

Ask admissions officers about the school’s resources to learn more. Inquire about the retention rate of students with learning differences, typical accommodations, and accessibility of the study skills and/or disabilities services staff.

Seek Accommodations

IEPs and 504s expire when a student graduates high school, so they are no longer in effect for college. Colleges offer less formal options for disabilities services than the K-12 system. It’s important to ask questions about what you may be entitled to and how you might go through the process. Some accommodations for students with ADHD include extended exam time, exam breaks, distraction-free rooms, and permission to use select technology.

Consider Disclosing Your ADHD on Your Application

Disclosure is always your choice. Schools legally cannot deny you admission because of your condition. However, some experts argue that it can provide an explanation for some of the gaps in your application like uneven grades or time off. Traditionally, students will disclose in the "Additional Information" section on the Common Application.

Choose Schools That Fit Your Unique Concerns

Depending on your specific needs, you will want to focus on certain factors. For some students, it may be helpful to explore schools that offer one course at a time, like Colorado College or Cornell College. These schools enable students to focus fully on the task at hand. Some students may prefer smaller classes and a low student-to-faculty ratio so they can get the attention they need. New College of Florida is a great example with only 10 students per faculty member. Students may also prefer self-paced, online college programs like Columbia College, Pace University, and Florida National University. Finally, some students with ADHD benefit from services designed specifically for their needs, like learning resource programs at Adelphi University or the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center at the University of Arizona.

Become Your Own Advocate

Now that you are a legal adult without an IEP or 504 plan, you will need to learn to speak up for your needs. This can help you improve your quality of life on campus, increase your likelihood of completing your degree, and maintain a higher GPA. Students should keep an open line of communication with their residential advisors, professors, and disability services.

Seven Strategies to Help Students Succeed in College

  • Participate in Clubs and Social Events

    College is about more than academics, so taking the time to nurture close friendships, engage in fun activities, and serve the community can keep you feeling good about yourself and your experiences.

  • Don't Forget to Take Prescription Medications

    If a physician has prescribed you medication for ADHD, a psychiatric condition, or a physical illness, take it. Trust your medical professional to help you stay alert and healthy.

  • Make Use of Mental Health Resources

    Students can receive help from the on-campus counseling center. Many off-campus organizations such as faith-based groups and private therapists can also help students with ADHD maintain strong mental health during college.

  • Pick an Engaging Major

    If you find the bulk of your coursework captivating, it will be a lot easier to spend concentrated time on it. Don't let someone else choose your major for you based on their criteria for a good life.

  • Work Backwards from the Deadline

    Start with your deadline then go backwards to set milestones into the calendar. Have a paper due? Set a mini-deadline for the research, another for the rough draft, and a third for the edits.

  • Chunk Study Sessions

    Don't try to study in brief, quick sessions. Instead, set aside 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to go deep into the material. Take a short break and get back at it. Learning doesn't happen in seconds. It takes concentration.

  • Use a Planner or Digital Calendar

    Add class times, study sessions, social events, and due dates to a digital calendar or planner as soon as they come available. Make sure to set regular push notifications so you don't forget about them.

Support for College Students with ADHD

Students with ADHD may find a variety of common accommodations available to them both on campus and in community settings. Obtaining college accommodations may appear daunting, but following a logical, step-by-step approach can help students gain exactly what they need to succeed in higher education.

How to Request Academic Accommodations

Counselors, disability resource centers, and advocacy organizations on college campuses can help students with attention disorders secure academic accommodations while in college. Students themselves need to take initiative to request and secure these accommodations, though, as they are not automatic.

Know What Accommodations You Need

Awareness of needed accommodations helps serve as a reference when filling out documentation and speaking with disability representatives at the college. Students can play an active role in receiving help by requesting accommodations outside of the common scope -- nothing wrong with asking!

Identify School Staff to Speak With

Most schools boast offices devoted to disability services, but each school is different. Knowing who and what office to go to for accomodations is a must. Start by talking with the admissions office and then with student life.

Compile and Provide Documentation

Before a school can honor an accommodation request, students usually must compile formal paperwork that documents their need for academic adjustments. A counselor, psychologist, or health center worker often proves the best source for this documentation.

Schedule an Appointment

Once students have completed the steps above, they should meet with a representative from their school’s disability office to confirm the status of their accommodations, plan next steps, and set up a series of check-in appointments.

Common Academic Accommodations for Students with ADHD

Students may be able to continue many accommodations they received in high school during college. While the law mandates some accommodations, learners may need to self-advocate for others.

  • Access to reduced-distraction sites for exams

  • Extended time to complete assignments and test

  • A note-taking service to record class notes

  • Receive written instructions from professors

  • Permission to record classroom lectures and discussions

  • Reduced course load

  • Permission to keep a fidget widget in hand during exams

  • Put due dates into a shared digital calendar or reminder

  • Opportunity to take exams at alternative times under a proctor in the disability office

  • Request alternative assessments

On- and Off-Campus ADHD Resources

Students with ADHD can take advantage of different resources and support groups that exist on and off campus. Many of these resources come at little or no cost to the students, including counseling, academic support, screening, advocacy training, and information distribution. On-campus resources vary from school to school; however, many national groups make themselves available to students across the country.

On-Campus Resources

  • Counseling and Mental Health Centers Students at most higher education institutions can seek the help of a licensed counselor or trained mental health professional through an on-campus center. These centers usually offer free services to students, including support groups, seminars, and direct services.
  • College Disability Centers: College disability centers help students receive support and advocate for accommodations. These centers can provide testing, counseling, adaptive technology, information, and support groups for students with disabilities. Colleges vary in the level of support they provide students with disabilities, so disability centers may offer many resources or very few.
  • Tutoring Centers Universities typically offer tutoring centers staffed by students and professionals that can help learners study for tests, draft research papers, and complete projects. Students with ADHD can receive one-on-one instruction and support from a trained tutor, eliminating the distractions in a classroom setting.
  • Screenings and Learning Support for ADHD Students who suspect they may have ADHD but do not hold a diagnosis can get screened for the disorder. Duke University students can meet with a learning consultant, for instance, and University of North Carolina learners can go to the learning center to find out how to get formally evaluated.
  • Campus Groups Some campus support groups, such as the ADHD Group at Weber State University, meet regularly to help students manage common difficulties. Other groups, like the counseling center at the University of Oregon, provide regular seminars for members to learn how to deal with the effects of ADHD.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation Rooms Many colleges and universities, such as the University of Redlands and the University of Washington, offer dedicated space furnished for private meditation, contemplative coursework, and community classes. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can relieve stress and help practitioners strengthen focus.

Off-Campus Resources

  • Government Resources State, federal, and local government agencies offer resources to help students with disabilities overcome personal and societal barriers, including achieving access to education. Private organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities and the Association of Higher Education and Disability help people with disabilities cooperatively influence government policy.
  • Nonprofit Organizations and Advocacy Groups Advocacy Groups and nonprofit organizations such as the Attention Deficit Disorder Association and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can deliver an array of resources, including publications; podcasts; conferences; local chapters; and webinars for students, teachers, and friends.
  • Local and Online Student Support Communities Both in-person and online support groups can help students with ADHD not feel alone, share their problems and solutions with others in similar situations, and enjoy social connections with new friends who empathize. Psychology Today offers a national, searchable database of these groups.
  • Treatment and Care Providers Treatment and care providers such as educational therapists, life coaches, psychologists, and counselors can help students with attention disorders navigate the challenges of higher education through behavioral and psychological interventions. Students can make use of a national directory of providers offered through Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Scholarships for Students with ADHD

Many students help fund the cost of higher education through scholarships, which come from private money donated to students who meet the donors' requirements. ADHD college scholarships in the following list specifically serve students with ADHD or students with learning disabilities that show a high comorbidity with ADHD.

Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Graduating high school seniors with ADHD or a learning disability who plan to attend a vocational or technical training program, two-year community college, or specialized program for students with ADHD or LD may apply. Applicants must demonstrate financial need along with perseverance toward realistic goals.

Amount: $2,500

Anne Ford Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship goes to a graduating high school senior with ADHD or a documented learning disability who plans to enroll in a full-time bachelor’s degree program. Applicants must show a minimum 3.0 GPA and demonstrate financial need. They also need to demonstrate leadership as a role model for others with ADHD.

Amount: $10,000

Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa At-Large Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Iowa high school seniors with learning disabilities who plan to enroll in a postsecondary college or vocational program at an accredited institution can apply. Applicants or their parents should be members of the Iowa Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). If they are not, a member can recommend them for the award.

Amount: $500

Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Award

Who Can Apply: This scholarship committee accepts applications from Learning Ally high school senior members with learning disabilities who show service, leadership, and academic achievement. Applicants must submit a narrative and video recording about their learning differences and how Learning Ally changed their lives.

Amount: $2,000 - $6,000

RiSE Scholarship Foundation, Inc. Award

Who Can Apply: College-bound seniors who hold a 2.5 GPA or better and have a documented learning disability in addition to ADHD may apply for this award. Applicants may plan to attend either a two-year or four-year college. The application packet requirements may vary from year to year, so prospective applicants should check the website regularly.

Amount: $2,500

Incight Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Current Washington, Oregon, or California residents with a disability as defined by ADA, DSM-V, or IDEA who plan to attend school for an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctorate degree can apply. Recipients must complete 30 hours of community service or volunteer at an Incight event.

Amount: Varies

The BMO Capital Markets Lime Connect Equity Through Education Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Current students pursuing degrees at four-year institutions and who have a visible or nonvisible disability may qualify for this scholarship. Recipients must major in business/commerce, engineering, computer science, physics, math, statistics, or a related discipline and plan to work in finance.

Amount: $10,000

Microsoft disAbility Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Current students pursuing degrees at four-year institutions and who have a visible or nonvisible disability may qualify for this scholarship. Recipients must major in business/commerce, engineering, computer science, physics, math, statistics, or a related discipline and plan to work in finance.

Amount: $10,000

Joseph James Morelli Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: This fund provides financial support to high school and college students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, and/or dyscalculia. Applicants must plan on pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and math. Hopeful recipients should apply through the Park City Community Foundation website.

Amount: $500-$2,500

LEAD Foundation Dottie-Walker Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Residents of the states of Colorado or Nevada who have a documented Specific Learning Disability as defined by the LDA can submit their applications. Recipients must enroll in higher education full time. The LEAD Foundation appreciates continued contact with those to whom it awards scholarships.

Amount: $1,500

PwC Lime Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Undergraduate students with disabilities who demonstrate an interest in accounting, technology, computer science, or a related field may submit an application for this scholarship. Applicants must maintain full-time undergraduate enrollment and a 3.0 GPA or better to receive consideration.

Amount: $4,000

1800wheelchair.com Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in high school, an undergraduate program, or graduate school who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit a piece, usually an essay or a visual project, on a topic such as overcoming personal challenges. Exact requirements vary by year.

Amount: $500

JCS Newhoff Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Jewish high school seniors who live in the Baltimore area and have a documented and diagnosed learning disability can apply for this scholarship through Jewish Community Services. Applications go through central-scholarship.org, which manages the selection process.

Amount: Varies

The Disabled Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Disability Care Center offers a scholarship for students who have a disability or attention issue that interferes with either their quality of life or their daily activities. Applicants must submit an essay about an obstacle they have overcome along with the obstacle's impact and influence on their future.

Amount: $500