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with Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Back to School: 5 Tips for Adult ADHD Students

Whether you are a first-time college student or returning to school after years in the workforce, going back to school as an adult can be an exciting, but daunting, prospect. Many ADHDers have anything but fond memories of the classroom but there’s no need for the college experience to be a negative one. Here are 5 tips to help put you on the road to success…

1. Academic accommodations aren’t just for kids

You’re probably familiar with the 504 and IEP-based accommodations offered to students in grade school and high school. While colleges and universities don’t offer those type of academic plans, students with ADHD can still get accommodations for the classroom and test-taking.

Your college or university should have a program or department that is devoted to helping students with disabilities and other special needs. Typically, they’ll need verification of your ADHD diagnosis in order to provide services. These programs generally offer accommodations like alternate locations and additional time for exams; note takers and assistive technology; access to audio books; etc.

It’s better to get a jump start on getting your diagnosis verified early in the game, even if you aren’t sure you’ll need the accommodations. That way they’ll be available to you right away if you decide to make use of them.

2. Get to know your learning and processing style

Each of us has preferred ways of taking in and processing information. To use myself as an example, I’m a very visual learner. I not only need visuals in order to focus on the material being presented but also to make sense of what I’m learning. I have found that if the material is only being presented in an auditory format, like an audio book or a teleclass, it’s extremely difficult for me to focus. I also lean toward kinesthetic or tactile forms of learning which means that I’m big on taking notes and hands-on learning.

When you have ADHD, knowing what your learning and processing styles are can help you choose more effective study methods and improve your ability to focus. You’ll also have a better idea of what kinds of educational accommodations would be the most helpful.

There are various assessments and quizzes you can take online to determine your preferred learning or processing style. Or you can simply take note of the methods that you’ve been drawn to in the past and seem to work well.

3. Connect with your professors and classmates

While there’s no need to disclose your ADHD diagnosis to your professors (unless you choose to), taking the time to connect with them either before or after class or during their office hours is usually a good idea. You may feel a bit intimidated chatting up your professor but keep in mind that they want you to succeed in their class. If you’re having trouble with the material or need additional support, talk to them and see what they suggest. If anything, they’ll appreciate your effort and want to do what they can to help you do well.

It can also be helpful to make a friend or two in your classes. Not only does it make class more fun, but you’ll have someone to call in case you need a copy of the notes or want someone to study with.

4. Make learning dynamic and fun

ADHD-related challenges such as an inability to focus, difficulty getting started, and poor working memory can make studying difficult. The key to overcoming these challenges is to make learning dynamic and fun. Ditch the idea that the “proper” way to study is by taking notes and reviewing textbook chapters. If that works for you, great! But most ADHDers need more in order to focus on and retain information.

Consider using highlighters or different colored pens for notes; use mind-mapping techniques to diagram and visually organize information; make use of voice-to-text software for writing essays; join a study group or find someone who can give you one-on-one tutoring; take your study session outside or to a coffee shop or any other setting you enjoy. The more you can “interact” with the information in interesting ways, the more effective your studying will be.

5. Avoid the urge to overdo it 

One of the challenges of going to college as an adult is managing the additional responsibilities of a career, a household, and/or a family. With that in mind, avoid the temptation to overload your academic schedule.

Online classes may seem like an attractive alternative to in-person classes in terms of scheduling and the like, but know that these type of classes require a great deal of self-monitoring to stay on track which can be difficult for people with ADHD.

If possible, take one or two classes to start and see how it goes; then add more if you feel a heavier course load would be doable.

The advantage of being an adult student is that you have greater control over your academic experience. And for adults with ADHD, there are numerous services, tools, and strategies that can help you reach your educational goals. Happy studying!

Back to School: 5 Tips for Adult ADHD Students

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC is a social worker, ADHD consultant, and certified life coach. Her practice, Lotus Life Coaching Services, provides coaching services for adults, youth, and families impacted by ADD/ADHD and executive function challenges.

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APA Reference
van Rikxoort, N. (2019). Back to School: 5 Tips for Adult ADHD Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2019
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