4 Tips for College Success with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Every year, thousands of students with ADHD enroll in college, excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. In fact, about one in nine students on college campuses today has ADHD. While heading off to college is exciting, it can also feel overwhelming for students with ADHD who have relied heavily on the support of parents, teachers, 504 plans, IEPs, private tutors, learning specialists, and therapists to succeed throughout high school. While many college students with ADHD earn their degrees within four years and have positive college experiences overall, the reality is that most students with ADHD struggle to some extent academically. Having ADHD places college students at higher risk for taking much longer than planned to earn their degrees or dropping out of college altogether.  

Findings from a recently published study that followed college freshmen with ADHD until their expected graduation dates four years later found that the strongest freshman-year predictors of long-term college success were 1) receiving academic services during freshman year and 2) entering college with strong study skills. One of the biggest factors that interfered with success was having higher levels of depression symptoms during freshman year. For parents and students, it’s important to pay attention to all aspects of mental health and not just ADHD symptoms.  

Successful college students with ADHD recognize that they will need extra support throughout college and work with their parents to get this support in place before they begin their freshman year. The following four steps will help students with ADHD get on the path to college success: 

  1. Identify strengths and weaknesses before heading to college. Study skills, time management, organization skills, social skills and healthy sleep, eating and physical activity habits are all important for college success. Students with ADHD should work with their parents and school counselors or therapists to identify their strengths and recognize areas of weakness where they will need extra support during college. It’s also important to treat mental health symptoms related to anxiety or depression before starting college and during college. 
  2. Strengthen organizational skills and study skills before going to college. Freshman-year study skills are an important predictor of long-term success in college. These skills should be taught and practiced during high school, so students can enter college with an arsenal of skills and strategies that already work for them.  
  3. Look for colleges and universities that offer strong academic support programs for students with ADHD or learning disabilities. These services will help students adapt their study skills to the college context and teach new skills when they are needed. Comprehensive support programs are typically provided for an additional fee through the college’s office of disability and learning support services (see this list from Peterson’s of 20 great colleges for students with learning disabilities). 
  4. Work with a therapist during freshman year. Working with a therapist during freshman year can help students quickly identify and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Therapists can help with the general stress that comes with adjusting to college with ADHD as well as the friendship and romantic challenges that come up during the college transition. If therapy services offered on campus are limited, students can go off campus to find therapists. Many therapists will also provide telehealth services for students who want to get started during high school.   

Attending college with ADHD can be challenging, but with planning and support, success is possible.    


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.