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Tips from an ADHD College Student

CollegeQuest
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Whether you have ADHD, you’re a chronic procrastinator, or you just can’t seem to focus, here are some tips that can help you survive and thrive in college.

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During my first year in university, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For me, ADHD made studying, staying focused, and managing my time one-hundred times more difficult. But through trial-and-error, I found a routine that helped me survive (and thrive) in college. While I know ADHD is different for everyone, here are a few tips that helped me succeed in university. 

Stay Busy

Okay, I know this sounds counterintuitive. If you find it difficult to manage your time without the added stress of extracurriculars, how is staying busy supposed to help you better organize your time? The answer is simple: staying busy ensures you have a set routine and schedule. If you’re anything like me, keeping track of time is beyond difficult, and if I don’t have anything planned for the day, I don’t feel any sense of urgency to study or do anything productive. 

Keeping yourself busy, however, forces you to keep track of time. Maybe you can join a club with weekly meetings, get a part-time job, or volunteer at your local nonprofit. Whatever it is, consistently having something to do helps you keep track of and manage your time more effectively. For me, I joined my student newspaper, worked and interned part-time, and volunteered at a student resource center. Having something to do nearly every day of the week (even if it was just for a few hours) instilled in me a sense of urgency and helped me realize that time was a precious, limited resource. 

Plan Your Time: Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.

Here’s a scenario I often experienced as a college student (and perhaps you can relate): Finals week is quickly approaching. There’s twenty hours worth of lecture material to review, fifteen hours of assignments, a ten-page essay to write, and two finals to study for. There’s so much to do – maybe you don’t even know how to start studying. Maybe you get so overwhelmed that you just freeze and take a stress nap instead. 

In times like these, it is essential you know how to effectively prioritize your assignments and plan your time accordingly. For me this process was an uphill battle, but through trial-and-error, I eventually found a method that made conquering this mountain of work seem doable. The method goes a little something like this:

  1. Take a sheet of paper. Separate it into 8 sections: 1 section for each day of the week and 1 section for miscellaneous notes.
  2. Think about what you have planned for the week (extracurricular activities, work schedule, etc.) and write those down.
  3. Make a mental list of all your assignments. Assign an amount of time you would like to spend on each one. From there, break the assignments up into smaller – more manageable – chunks of time. 
  4. Based on the assignments’ due dates, write each one down under the specific day you would like to work on them – along with the amount of time you would like to spend doing each one. Assigning a specific amount of time to spend on each assignment is essential for this technique; it ensures you don’t spend too much time on one task and not enough time on another. 
  5. Separate your assignments into “TO DO” tasks (what you must complete for the day) and “OPTIONAL” tasks (what you can do for the day, if time permits).
  6. Optional: Color code for aesthetic value and ease of reading. 

I call this the Micromanaging Technique. For an example, see below:

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This technique might seem excessive, but I (and all of my friends who also use it) swear by it. Writing everything down ensures that nothing is forgotten, and assigning a specific amount of time to each task helps you plan and prioritize your time. Plus, it’s super satisfying to tick off the boxes once you complete each task! 

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Finally, if you ever feel completely stressed and overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support. It’s important to have and maintain a strong support system in college, especially in times of need. 

Also, your college’s mental health counseling and disability services are there to help you. Almost all colleges offer disability services and accommodations for students with disabilities (including students with ADHD). If you feel that ADHD hinders your ability to study and complete schoolwork, go to your college’s disability services office or website, and see how they can help.


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WRITTEN BY
Lindsay Ito
University of California, Los Angeles

Lindsay Ito graduated in Spring 2022 with a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Born and raised in Los Angeles and Orange County, Lindsay’s life has been uniquely shaped by her Southern Californian upbringing: she’s worked as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disneyland, loves the beach on a sunny day, and (embarrassingly) cannot drive in the rain. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading a good horror story, cuddling with her cat, and rewatching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.