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Why You Need ADHD Accommodations in College

Tips for getting the best help in college when you have ADHD.

Key points

  • Those with ADHD have just as much of a right to accommodations in college as anyone else with a disability.
  • Accommodations for ADHD in college may include getting "first dibs" on classes and a reduced workload.
  • Anyone who is not given accommodations in college for ADHD has the right to appeal the decision.

If you have ADHD, you are not getting out of the starting gate at the same time as everyone else. It may take you longer to process what you learn in class. It may take you longer to focus and complete a test. Accommodations are adjustments made to your learning so you are on an even playing field with your classmates.

Sometimes college students with ADHD tell me they feel uncomfortable asking for accommodations, feeling like they don't deserve them. You have just as much of a right to accommodations as anyone else with a disability. At least get accommodations on board. It's better to have them and not need to use them to not have them at all.

How to get help in college when you have ADHD

Here are recommendations for getting accommodations in college. (Note that private colleges or universities are only required to meet federal accommodation guidelines if they receive any federal funding, including Pell Grants.)

1. Apply for accommodations as soon as you get accepted to your college. How do you know you might need accommodations for ADHD? If any of the following apply to you:

  • You had accommodations in high school or at another college and found them to be necessary for you to work to your ability or potential;
  • You have tried seeking "informal" accommodations or exceptions on your own, and you are facing challenges;
  • In order to work to your ability or potential, you need extra time on standardized tests;
  • You feel your college experience will be more frustrating or even detrimental to your well-being if you don't have additional help.

2. The Office for Student Disabilities Services website will let you know what you need to provide in order to apply for accommodations. Go online to your university and look up "disability services," "student disabilities," or similar wording. This tends to include:

  • A report from a clinician with testing and a diagnosis of ADHD, along with recommended accommodations. (Be aware that the report no longer needs to be completed within the last 5 years. Any report during your lifetime, as long as it meets the Office for Student Disability Services criteria, should be accepted.)
  • Your IEP or Section 504 plan from high school (If applicable. If you have not received accommodations before, that is perfectly okay.)
  • A list of requested accommodations.

3. Accommodations to consider are:

  • Extended time on tests. This is usually equal to "time and a half." If you plan on applying for accommodations for graduate school exams such as the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, or GMAT, you must already have had accommodations in place for college.
  • Testing in a separate and quiet location.
  • Having a notetaker in class. (This is done anonymously.)
  • Getting priority registration. This means you get "first dibs" on classes. The smaller the class size, the better chances you have of paying attention and processing information. It also means that if you have a lot of difficulty waking up in the morning due to sleep issues (as do a majority of people with ADHD), priority registration enables you to register for late-morning or afternoon classes.
  • Having all class instructions written out for you.
  • Permission to record lectures, and access to recording equipment through the Office for Student Disabilities Services.
  • A reduced course load—taking part-time classes and having them count as full-time.
  • Altered test formats—if you have a learning disability along with ADHD (as is the case with 50% of people with ADHD) and you meet the criteria for a learning disorder such as dyslexia, you may be able to have your tests read to you or you may be able to dictate the answers. Keep in mind that standardized tests for graduate school may not allow these options.

4. If you are not given accommodations, you do have the right to appeal the decision. For more information on the appeals process, see the Office for Student Disability Services at your college or university.

It is important that you have accommodations even if you think you may not need them your first semester. It is a lot easier to go ahead and already have extended time on a test rather than realize there's no way you're going to have enough time to complete a test next week.

For more information on surviving college with ADHD, see my book, Making the Grade With ADD: A Student's Guide to Succeeding in College With Attention Deficit Disorder.

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