The College Advice That ADHD Students Need to Hear Right Now

It’s the start of the fall 2020 semester — the weirdest one that most of us have ever seen. If you are a college student, by now you know whether you’re taking classes live, in a hybrid format, completely online – or not at all in favor of a gap semester or gap year. Though the decision has been made, there is still uncertainty: If we’re live, will we stay that way? If we’re online, will I be able to stay engaged enough to succeed? If I take a break, will I fall behind and regret it?

Whatever your path, it’s going to be okay. These are strange times for everyone, so you are not alone in feeling uneasy. It is up to you to make the best of your situation, and here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Heed drop dates. If you are in an online learning situation or feeling anxious in a live learning situation, pay attention to drop dates. Don’t hesitate to switch a class or drop it if it’s not working for you. Later, when you apply to grad school or for a job, all you will have to say is, “That was during the pandemic.” Everyone will understand.
  2. Reach out to your instructors. I teach grad school, so I know that we LOVE hearing from students. Don’t be shy. If you are confused, feeling overwhelmed, having computer issues, nervous about COVID, whatever – email your instructor or drop by office hours (don’t forget your mask!). We teach because we love to help — even if there’s nothing we can do, just knowing you’re making the effort can make a difference when it comes time to grade.
  3. Ask for help early. My kids always wait until it’s way too late to help. If the class seems difficult, find a tutor before you’re in the weeds. Approach the learning center at your school (by email or phone) to see what kind of support you can get.
  4. Find a friend. If you’re 100% online, it may be difficult to make in-class connections; you will have to go the extra mile. Don’t be shy. Reach out to someone who seems to have it together (hint: that person who answers all the instructor’s questions) and ask for their contact info in case you have a question. Those smarty pants usually love to give answers if they know them.
  5. Understand that this semester is a bit of an experiment. If your situation doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to consider changing it for the spring, assuming the world hasn’t bounced back by then. Try a leave of absence or a smaller class load. There is no shame in slowing down — you’re not racing anyone, even though it may feel that way.
  6. Take breaks and have (safe) fun. Whether you’re at home or away at school, breaks are important to maintain focus. Build them into your schedule and treat yourself by doing something you enjoy — even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
  7. If you took a gap semester, try something new! While this could be a great time to gain experience in your field of interest, it could also be the time to experiment and step outside your comfort zone. Whatever you choose to do, go the extra mile, learn what you can — and put it on your resume!
  8. Take care of yourself. Just because your class environment might be unusual, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to care for your ADHD brain. Sleep, eat right, and keep exercising. You may not be able to go to the gym, but there are loads of apps and free YouTube classes. Activity, whatever the form, will help you focus and keep in good spirits.

[Additional Reading: College? There’s An App For That]

Good luck. You are tackling a big life task during a very unusual time in our world. Keep track of your struggles and the efforts you make to overcome them — one day, you will have a great story that demonstrates to potential employers how resilient you are!

College Advice: Next Steps


Updated on September 3, 2020

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