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Securing Your College Success as a Neurodivergent Student

Two neurodivergent clinicians speak out about how to flourish in college.

Key points

  • Requesting accommodations can be a long process, so starting early is helpful.
  • Formal and informal supports exist on college campuses.
  • Many neurodivergent people thrive in college.

Summer is a wonderful time of preparation for graduating seniors. Awareness of neurodivergence is rising and more neurodivergent students are entering college. For those entering college this fall, now is the perfect time to begin the exciting process of devising a plan for success.

To learn more about how neurodivergent students can prepare for the college experience, I spoke with two neurodiversity experts who both share lived experiences as neurodivergent clinicians. Jessica Chester is a university counselor who is neurodivergent herself, and Bobbi-Jo Molokken is a therapist and ADHD coach who is also neurodivergent.

Through our interviews, we identified a few insights for neurodivergent students to integrate to secure success in college.

"Utilize the resources and student groups that exist." —Jessica Chester, LMSW

Each college has its own culture surrounding its approach to neurodiversity. Looking into what accessibility supports are available can be an important step in finding the best fit. Jessica shares that utilizing the resources that exist can be huge. While we might think of resources in terms of academics, Jessica shares that it is equally critical to consider other dimensions of the college experience such as social life and, if living on campus, residential pieces. She shares that many schools offer neurodiversity-specific clubs or other spaces where neurodivergent students can gather. Accessing these is a way to create a community of belonging that will be there for you with neurodivergent-specific needs and support you in your goals.

"It's okay if you need to study differently." —Bobbi-Jo Molokken, LISW, CCTP, ADHD-CCSP

Everyone studies a little differently. The structure of high school is different than that of college. There is much more freedom in a post-graduate setting. Bobbie shares that recognizing how you study best is essential. Some people study better alone, while others focus best in groups. For one person, the quiet chatter and body doubling offered at a coffee shop can be helpful, but for another, that noise can be distracting. While most high school classes meet every day, a college class may only meet one to three times a week with much more emphasis placed on studying in between. With less rigid rules, college offers room to experiment with what works best for you.

[When it comes to accommodations] "It's better to have it than not to have it, don't just see how it goes." —Jessica Chester, LMSW

It can be tempting to just see how it goes rather than to arrange accommodations from the get-go through the student accessibility office. Still, Jessica shares that there can be major pitfalls with this approach. Arranging accommodations often requires accessing documentation, working with the accessibility office to identify and approve accommodations, communicating those adjustments to the professor, and ultimately administrating these. It's a process. By affiliating yourself with the student accessibility office right away, you can arrange accommodations from the get-go so that you have them whether or not you need them. Jessica explains that this is much more effective than scrambling for accomodations halfway through the semester. Some accommodations that students might receive through the accessibility office include flexible deadlines for assignments, extended time for tests, the ability to record lectures, or obtaining copies of a professor's notes.

"In college there will be a shift to managing your own schedule and life." —Bobbi-Jo Molokken, LISW, CCTP, ADHD-CCSP

The college adjustment means managing a lot of things on your own. For neurodivergent students, this can be a particularly sharp transition. Discovering what skills help you with time management and executive functioning can take time. Support from a counselor or coach can be helpful here. As can prompts like digital support tools, having the right planner, the right calendar, or arranging reminders for appointments on your phone. Creative solutions like color coding might also be part of what you use to help organize.


College can be a lot of fun, as well as a steep change. There is no uniform way to approach it. Still, taking steps such as these can improve the likelihood of your success.

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