ADHD tips from my college years

Doing well in college wasn’t a snap for me. Having ADHD meant I had to be creative when figuring out how to stay on track. But I did it — I made it through college. And I got a master’s degree in counseling.

When I look back at college, I sometimes wish someone had given me a few tips on how to make things a little easier. So now that I’m on the other side, I’d like to pass my own wisdom along to college-bound kids with ADHD.

Tip #1: Are four alarm clocks enough? Probably not, but set them anyway.

Yes, those alarm clocks will annoy roommates. But that could be a good thing if they’ll wake you up just to get you to turn them off.

If bugging a roommate isn’t an option, try setting up an alarm away from your bed, so you have to get up to turn it off. The greater the distance between you and the snooze button, the more likely you are to get up.

Tip #2: It really doesn’t matter what you’re wearing as long as you’re on time.

If you’re running late, don’t waste time finding an outfit. College is one of the few places where wearing pajamas in public is 100 percent OK. Take advantage of this. Not only will you be more likely to get there on time, you probably won’t be the only one in less-than-formal attire.

Tip #3: Eat something!

Some days there’s time to go to the dining hall. Other days, you’re running across the quad in your slippers with seconds to spare. On those mornings — or when the dining hall is just serving something really gross — make sure you have healthy snacks on hand. Keeping your blood sugar stable helps you maintain your focus and attention.

Tip #4: Find your sweet spot for studying.

My friends loved to have their cram sessions outside under the trees. Pretty, but that was a no-go for me — way too many distractions.

Instead, I hung out in empty classrooms and used a white noise app and headphones to help me stay focused. I also may have eaten a lot of Twizzlers.

Tip #5: The binder is greater than the notebook.

In high school, I had a habit of sticking important papers into spiral notebooks, only to have them vanish. They turned up months later in crumpled balls at the bottom of my backpack.

In college, I finally switched to three-ring binders. Having everything I needed in one place was a revelation. I kept a binder for each class. The syllabus, the notes, every new assignment, graded papers, and handouts — all in one neat package.

Suddenly, I stopped losing things. And when test time came, I had a ready-made study guide. Having binders makes you veeeeery popular during finals.

Tip #6: When you start to slide, don’t hide.

When I was younger and started falling behind in school, I’d try to cover it up. Embarrassed, I skipped classes and made excuses instead of asking for help. I had the benefit of watchful parents and teachers who did their best to keep me from falling too far.

In college, hiding out is much easier. No one calls home when you miss class or fail a test. At first this seemed like a dream to me. But as I dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole, I slowly realized that without help I wasn’t going to make it. It was hard to speak up, but once I started reaching out, things changed.

Tip #7: Get some friends with… ADHD.

When I opened up about my ADHD, I discovered, to my surprise, that I wasn’t alone. When I shared my story, I found out I had friends with ADHD.

It was a huge relief to be able to talk and joke about learning differently. We became a team, helping each other with wake-up calls, homework groups, all-nighters, commiseration, and understanding. Also, I have to tell you, there’s no one more excited to help you with your homework than someone who’s procrastinating on her own.

Tip #8: If at first you don’t succeed… it’s OK.

Really. I promise. It’s OK.

If you miss a homework assignment or bomb a test, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, try talking to your teacher or professor about what went wrong. Ask what you can do to catch up. Get friends to be your study buddies. Talk to your advisor, and check in with your college’s disability services office.

PJ’s and snacks aside, the best thing you can do to succeed in college, and in the life you’ll lead afterward, is to speak up and stick with it.

Oh, and get a shower caddy. Those things are great.


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