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College Admissions Advice for Students with ADHD and EFD

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Applying to college tests all students’ capacity for organization, attention to detail, meeting deadlines, and making important decisions. However, for students living with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and executive functioning disorder (EFD), the college application process can seem especially challenging and even overwhelming.

Nevertheless, it is entirely possible to be a successful college applicant if you are a student with a learning challenge such as ADHD or EFD! Below, we’ve compiled some of our best tips and tricks to make the college application and admissions process as manageable and stress-free as possible for these students.

Start Early

The best gift you can give yourself in the college admissions process, no matter your learning style, is time. This is doubly true for students with ADHD or EFD. If you’re someone who has trouble working quickly to meet deadlines or concentrating on writing or studying for long periods of time, or if you struggle with organization, it’s important to make sure that you have plenty of time to course-correct during the admissions process.

If you struggle with concentration and/or organization, time will help. If you start looking at colleges early on, you can visit them more slowly and take careful notes on each. If you start writing your essays early, you won’t need to be writing and revising quickly on top of all your other schoolwork. Know your limits, and give yourself time to succeed.

Make a Plan

If you struggle with organization and deadlines, having a clear plan for the college admissions process is essential. Students with ADHD, EFD, and other learning challenges around planning and organization will want an extremely clear and comprehensive timeline to ensure that they don’t miss any deadlines or lose track of their goals. Make sure you check when info sessions and tours are, when to sign up for interviews, and of course application deadlines.

As you put together this plan—remembering to start early!—make sure to get advice from parents, teachers, your guidance counselor, and others who are knowledgeable about the admissions process and can help you understand when various tasks need to be completed. Having a comprehensive plan will ensure that the entire process will be smooth and successful.

Get Accommodations for Standardized Tests

Depending on the colleges to which you plan to apply, you may need to take one or more standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT. Students with learning challenges often find these tests to be a particularly onerous element of the application process. Fortunately, the makers of these tests realize that and thus offer special accommodations for students with learning challenges, ranging from extra time to special materials to personal testing space.

Getting accommodations for standardized tests is not as easy as showing up and asking for them, however. You’ll need to provide documentation of your ADHD or EFD from your school or neuropsychologist in advance, as well as fill out a brief application. In general, your accommodations must be approved before you can even sign up for a test date, so start early!

Stay Organized

Having a clear plan will help, but students with organizational and concentration challenges will also want to make provisions to keep track of their application materials. As you get further into the application process, your materials will start to pile up—essay drafts, schedules, test scores, awards, transcripts, and more. Keeping these items organized is imperative to a successful application process.

The best approach for students with organizational challenges is to be proactive. Have someone help you set up clear folders on your desktop for different college admissions materials. Delete or move drafts that become obsolete. Number everything so you know what’s recent. Keep physical materials organized in binders and folders. The more you can minimize clutter and confusing labels, the less overwhelming the process will feel!

Find the Right Schools

Transitioning from high school, where you may have particular support systems or even an individualized education plan (IEP), to college can be daunting for some students with learning differences. For that reason, it’s important that you take into consideration not only how to apply to college, but what schools will offer the best fit for your learning style.

We’ve written at length about what students with learning challenges should look for in a college. Make sure you know what academic resources you need, and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you look at colleges. Finding the right fit is a challenge for all students, but it’s even more important for those with ADHD and EFD to do their research carefully when selecting schools.

Final Thoughts

Applying to college is an enormous and challenging undertaking; for the majority of students, it’s the biggest project they’ve ever completed. Students who struggle with concentration and executive functioning will encounter many of the same challenges they face in school, but magnified to an unfamiliar degree.

At the same time, students who successfully live and learn with ADHD and EFD are in some ways well prepared for this challenge. By using the same coping mechanisms for this process that they do to succeed in school—including starting early, being proactive about organization, and getting the right accommodations—they can have a manageable and successful application experience and minimize the stress typically associated with the college admissions process.

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