The transition from high school to college is overwhelming for everyone, but for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the struggle is especially great.
In high school, a six-hour school day creates a natural structure that provides students with ADHD the routine framework they need to thrive. Additionally, high school students with learning differences are typically held accountable by their parents and teachers for staying on top of projects, test dates, and assignment deadlines. Many high schools also have learning-support centers to help students with ADHD and other learning differences throughout their education.
The idea of going to college where there is less routine and far more freedom can be both exhilarating and overwhelming for students with ADHD, who may be picturing the responsibilities of their education—and their future careers—now solely in their hands.
The good news is that many colleges provide the same academic supports for students with ADHD, including those who are yet to be diagnosed, as high schools do. While the quality and extent of these services can vary from school to school, there are ways to find a college that has the support services you need—and learning environment and campus culture you want.
As your college search begins, contact your preferred schools offices of disabilities to inquire about the support available to students with learning differences, as well as how it's accessed.
Once you've consulted school services, it's time to dig deeper into other factors of higher education that best suits your personality and learning needs.
For example, while large lecture instruction may spark your curiosity, you may feel lost in a sea of students and conclude that a course of this type isn't worth your time. Smaller class sizes are often better for the ADHD brain as the learning environment is more personalized and offers greater individual attention and feedback from professors. As you consider your options, be honest with yourself about your learning difference so you can truly pinpoint what you need to be successful.
From here, focus on the aspects of college life that will appeal to you most. What on-campus and off-campus activities will keep you stimulated and engaged? Consider whether your interests happen inside or outside (or both), and whether the school of your choice has clubs and organizations to suit them. Whether you're passionate about music, government, sports, or giving back, the activities you take part in should let your natural talents to flourish.
Next, take a moment and imagine yourself in your ideal college setting. What do you see? Get specific about what your typical day as an undergraduate student would look like and write down everything that comes to mind.
For example, do you like to start your day with exercise? Add running trails or a fitness center to your list. Is it a priority to have a variety of healthy meal options? Add it. If you envision yourself finishing classes by the afternoon so you can join clubs and intramural activities, your list could highlight a need for specific scheduling.
Don't forget to include your preference for school size, as well as a city, suburban, or rural setting. You'll be able to use this list to narrow down your top schools later on.
The schools listed below are recognized for meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities. Use them as a research guide and see how they stack up against the schools on your list.
Curry College is located in Milton, Massachusetts and reports an undergraduate population around 2,500. The majority of students live on campus. Curry boasts an 11:1 student-faculty ratio, with 58 percent of classes made up of fewer than 20 students.
Support Services: The college's Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL) provides academic support to students with specific language-based learning disabilities, executive functioning disorders, and/or ADHD. PAL also offers accommodations for non-English speaking and English language learning students. Students in this program are fully enrolled in their courses and receive additional support through individual meetings with PAL faculty or in small groups. Support is largely aimed to help students develop strategies in areas such as reading comprehension, writing, speaking, listening, organization, and time-management, which provides them with a new understanding of their personal learning styles and best practices for academic success.
The University of Arizona is located in Tucson, Arizona and home to over 35,000 undergraduate students, 19 percent of whom live in college-owned, -operated or -affiliated housing. Undergraduate students have over 100 majors to choose from, as well as the option to create an individualized degree plan. More than 65% of classes have fewer than 29 students enrolled. The student-faculty ratio is 20:1.
Support Services: The university's Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center provides support to learning differences through an innovative approach that is recognized as one of the most successful at promoting student achievement in a university setting. Through SALT, strategic learning specialists work with students to grow their organization, time-management, planning and prioritization skills and create personalized study strategies. Subject-based tutoring and additional workshops are also available.
West Virginia University is located in Morgantown, West Virginia. Of approximately 22,500 undergraduate students, 15 percent live in on or near campus. Students have over 130 majors to choose from and can expect an average class size of 20-49, as well as a 19:1 student-faculty ratio.
Support Services: WVU's Mindfit program offers cutting edge tools to help students strengthen their cognitive functioning skills. Described as a "mental gym," Mindfit provides an evaluation to students seeking accommodations, as well as a non-pharmacological approach to help students improve their attention span and memory. Study coaching and semester-long academic coaching is also available.
More than 40,000 undergraduate students are enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, 22 percent of whom live on the school's 437-acre campus. Students have over 146 majors to choose from and can expect 36.5% of classes to be made up of fewer than 20 students. The student-faculty ratio is 18:1.
Support Services: The university's Sanger Learning Center offers a variety of academic support, from drop-in tutoring to weekly appointments, to workshops and peer coaching sessions. Most services are initiated by the student, which an approach that often suits the ADHD brain. Students can also register to receive accommodations such as adaptive testing, assistive technology, course audio recording, reduced-distraction testing environments, and priority registration.
No matter the campus you end up calling yours, taking advantage of your school's support services will provide you with the opportunity turn areas of concern into areas of strength. If you were not the academic you wanted to be in high school, college can be your time to shine. With the right resources at hand, all that's left for you to do will be to take advantage of them.
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