Accommodations for College Students with ADHD: Frequently Asked Questions

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

For teens with ADHD, college acceptance represents a major milestone, and one that they worked very hard to achieve. Once the admissions offer has been accepted and the celebration has died down, it’s time to start thinking about how your teen’s needs will be met once college life begins. Academic accommodations are one tool that may help students with ADHD manage some of the impairments that make college more difficult. These accommodations won’t guarantee success during college, but for some students with ADHD, they can be a very helpful piece of a more comprehensive plan. When parents and teens start looking into academic accommodations, they typically have a lot of questions and very few answers. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers to get you started on this journey.

  • What documentation is needed to qualify for academic accommodations in college? Each college has its own process for determining which students qualify for accommodations (and the specific accommodations they are eligible to receive). So, it’s important to reach out to the college as soon as possible to find out about their specific requirements. In general, colleges require a recent psychoeducation or neuropsychological testing report that documents the ADHD diagnosis and/or any specific learning differences and impairments that would justify the requested accommodations. Typically, a letter from a pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist will not suffice in the absence of detailed test results.
  • I tried to get my teen an IEP when he was in middle school or high school, and the school said he didn’t qualify. Does this mean he won’t be able to get accommodations in college? College students can qualify for academic accommodations even if they were denied an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) earlier in their education. This is due in part to the fact that college students with ADHD are offered protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that covers IEPs.
  • Who should we talk to at the college about the accommodation process? There are many offices and professionals who assist students with ADHD on college campuses, and knowing who to contact first can be a challenge. Your best starting point is typically the Office of Disability Support Services, or the individual listed as the 504 or American Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator at the institution.
  • When should we start talking with the college about academic accommodations? The process of obtaining accommodations can be lengthy, and I always recommend that parents and students begin talking with the college as soon as they accept the admissions offer.
  • What types of accommodations are available? Perhaps not surprisingly, the accommodations and services offered on college campuses can vary widely. Some campuses offer extensive services, and others only offer more basic accommodations. However, most colleges will at least offer the following:
    • Testing accommodations (e.g. extended time, private testing room)
    • Permission to record lectures and/or have a note-taker in class to capture content the student with ADHD may have missed
    • Access to audio books
    • Reduced course-load
    • Course substitutions for typically required courses

Should I expect my teen to complete the academic accommodation qualification process on their own? I want them to become more independent, but I’m not sure they’ll follow through without my help. The process of qualifying for college accommodations can be daunting, even for adults with years of experience. While it’s important to push your teen toward independence, now is not the time to have them go it alone. That said, your teen should be involved in the process every step of the way, and even take ownership of some of the smaller steps of the process if that’s practical and feasible.


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.


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