ADHD impacts student success in college

Posted on August, 14, 2023 by

Academic pressure accounts for 28% of college dropouts, as students may be unprepared or unequipped for the challenges of university-level schooling (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Picture this common scene. A new college freshman is studying in his dorm room for an exam he has the following day.  There is a knock at the door.  There are several guys from his floor inviting him to go out.  He looks at his desk, he looks back at his friends. The not fully developed executive function part of his brain thinks, “I can go out for an hour and study after” and off he goes. Does he continue to study when he gets back? Does he only go for an hour?  Probably not. Does he continue to study after he gets home or tell himself he will study in the morning?  Well, maybe?

While this seems how you would expect a typical college freshman to act, this is not a typical student.  He has ADHD which makes college harder for him than his peers. Let’s keep in mind that all these friends got into this school so they are all able to do the work.  The capacity to comprehend the complexities of college-level material is not in question.  But, there are other factors that make college more challenging for students with ADHD such as executive function difficulties and lack of maturity.  

Students with ADHD generally lag 2-3 years in maturity compared to their peers.  So, if a student enters college at 17 or 18, developmentally they could be functioning at the maturity level of a 15-year-old.  Remember, intelligence and maturity are different animals.  Are ADHD students bright enough to do well in college?  Yes, they are but they may not be mature enough to make good decisions.   

I am about to throw out a statistic that seems hard to believe, but I saw it in study after study so it must have some merit…

The current dropout rate of students with ADHD who are not medicated is a staggering 49%. In addition, of the students who chose to leave school, 30% are freshmen.

Clearly, ADHD impacts student success in college to a greater extent than we may think.

Many parents are apprehensive when sending their ADHD child off to college.  It’s a huge risk.  But students usually assure their parents that everything will be fine and it will be different when they are at college. If your child tells you this consider it a huge red flag.  What exactly are they going to do to increase their chances of success?  Have them write it down and sign it.  Here are some ideas for what it should say:

  • Go to the professor’s office hours right away if I need help
  • Use my accommodations
  • Work before fun
  • Use campus resources like the tutoring center
  • Make a study plan for tests
  • Go to study sessions
  • Turn in assignments on time
  • Go to classes
  • Tell Mom and Dad immediately if I am having trouble

Going through the college website with your child is also a good way for them to gain knowledge before they go to school. Have them locate the tutoring services and explore what the school offers, the times, and how to set up an appointment.  Have them do the same with any other services that may provide help such as counseling services, the Office of Students with Disabilities, etc.  

Remember, students who struggle with executive function issues are behind their peers in maturity. They do not respond well to the “you’re an adult now” philosophy.  They need assistance in transitioning to the college experience.

Academic Coaching for students with executive function challenges increases the chances of college success. For more information, contact us to learn how we can support your college student.