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4 Things I Learned From Going to College With ADHD

I went to college, and I learned stuff.

I learned what an eigenvector is. I learned about Walter Benjamin’s views on modernity. I learned how to write apps for smartphones.

But I also learned a lot of things that weren’t on the curriculum – things having to do with ADHD. Here are 4 of them.

1. I have ADHD

Of everything I learned from going to college with ADHD, maybe the most noteworthy is the fact that I have ADHD in the first place.

CollegeI didn’t know that going into college. As I got into my college studies, though, with all the new demands and adjustments that entailed, it became clear that something was really not working.

The feeling of something being wrong that I could not exactly put my finger on, and struggling with things that should theoretically be easy, reached a point where I could no longer ignore it. I consulted a mental health professional, mainly because of anxiety and depression at first, which led to the discovery that I have ADHD.

2. The format information is presented in matters

When you’re in college, you learn about learning, and you learn about how you learn in particular.

Along those lines, I came to realize that how well you learn something isn’t only about the information you’re learning itself, but about how it’s presented.

I’m thinking especially about how information can be presented in writing, verbally, through a video, and so on. For example, I do not absorb information well at all if it’s presented in a lecture format, even if it’s relatively simple information.

Lectures tend to take place in an understimulating environment – you’re sitting there passively, listening to someone talk on and on. For the ADHD brain, that’s a recipe for inattention. To make things worse, if you zone out and lose the train of a lecture, you can’t go back and reread (as with written information) or rewatch (as with videos).

All of which is to say, the medium information is communicated in determines how you understand that information, and as a student with ADHD it’s critical to become aware of what mediums work well for you.

3. Environment makes a difference

Whether you’re in an environment that fits well with your brain determines what kind of experience you have when you have ADHD. Some environments naturally facilitate coping while others will always be an uphill struggle.

I’ve written before about why school, at any level, often isn’t a good environment for ADHDers. When I was a kid, I naively believed that if you were smart and wanted to do well in school, you would do well in school. So if I didn’t do well in school, that must mean I wasn’t smart or I wasn’t trying hard enough.

Now, of course, I understand that people’s brains and environment interact in complex ways that, at least for people with ADHD, strongly influence factors like motivation, attention, and whether you achieve up to your “potential.” The environment you are in makes a difference, and you have to seek out an environment that brings out your personal strengths.

4. Some people don’t have trouble sitting still

This might sound like a trivial thing to include on this list, but at the time it felt like a deep realization. It occurred to me, observing other students: many people simply do not have an issue with sitting still and focusing for extending periods of time.

Meanwhile, I would leave class and get a drink of water just to have an excuse to move around. I naturally want to move even when I’m thinking – especially when I’m thinking, actually. For me, thinking and moving tend to go together. Even writing this post, I keep getting up to walk around as I collect my thoughts.

These aren’t the only four things I learned in college – I hope not, anyway! But they’re four that come to mind when I reflect on my experience as a student with ADHD. If you learned some similar lessons going to school with ADHD, feel free to share them below!

Image: Flickr/Sean MacEntee

4 Things I Learned From Going to College With ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). 4 Things I Learned From Going to College With ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jul 2020
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