Three Ways To Prepare Your ADHD Teen For College

(Today’s article is written by my business partner, Steve Safigan)

My son Andrew has ADHD (inattentive type).

Despite this, he’ll graduate college this year with a 3.5 GPA and will get married later this year (to a Japanese girl!)

But it wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t without a lot of worry!

In high school, Andrew was brilliant at math, but he was a very slow reader. Any subject that required reading a book was going to mean hours per day just trying to keep up.

His mother and I were sorely tempted to help him out. But we didn’t know how to make it easier for him. It was very frustrating for both him and us!


How Helping Can Help

Parents of ADHD and other learning challenged teens are often tempted to closely manage their kids’ lives.

It’s natural and understandable. You want to protect them. You want to organize their lives. It makes you feel better—less worried, anxious, and stressed—when you know that you’re doing all you can to make sure your children succeed.

And often things do get better. Their grades improve, or their behavior becomes more predictable, or they remember to take their books to school (because you’re reminding them).

When your kids were younger, these strategies worked well. Now that they’re teens, is this still the right approach?


How Helping Can Hurt

The problem with doing things for your teens (whether learning challenged or not) is that it this short-term improvement comes at a price: The more you do for your child, the more dependent your child is on you.

When your kids were smaller, your child’s dependence wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, they were supposed to still be dependent upon you.

But now that they’re older, you realize that you can’t always be there for your kids. If nothing else, college is looming—a constant reminder that they’re going to have to be independent soon.


Three Ways to Help Your ADHD Child Succeed in College

How can you encourage your teen to become independent while still taking into consideration their diminished academic, social, mental, or emotional capacities?  Here’s three ideas:

1. Have your ADHD teen manage his/her own condition. Allow your ADHD teen to start managing their own medication, daily schedules, organizational strategies, and other strategies YOU currently use to guide your child through life with ADHD.

Technology can help here. There are hundreds of apps designed to remind your child of appointments or when to take medication, as well as note-taking and organizational apps. Help your child put them to use!

What we did: Andrew wanted to discontinue his medication during high school. He didn’t like the way he felt while he was on it. While his mother and I supported his decision, we made it clear that he would need to go back on medication if his grades slipped as a result. This gave him motivation to keep his own grades up, which I’m happy to report he did.

2. Have your ADHD teen consider taking a lighter course load in college. There are several ways to do this without jeopardizing your child’s chances of graduating. These include:

  • Get college credit while in high school, either through AP exams or at a local community college.
  • Take college courses during summer breaks, again at a local college.
  • Take college courses during a ‘gap’ year between high school and college.
  • Plan from the beginning to graduate in five years instead of four.

Community colleges usually cost less than traditional four-year colleges. Further, college credit usually transfers from community college to four-year colleges as pass/fail, rather than letter grade. So a low (but passing) grade at community college may not hurt your child’s GPA at his four-year college. Just make sure the course will actually transfer and will satisfy a core course requirement, rather than just an elective.

What we did: Andrew was fortunate and worked hard enough to get AP credits in high school that transferred into college credits.

Then, before each of his four years in college, he took a college course at the local community college. He focused on a core curriculum course that required a lot of reading, so he wouldn’t have to read so much while taking a full-time load during the traditional school year.

This strategy allowed him to take only 12 credit hours (the minimum for a full-time student) during each of the 8 semesters at his four-year college. Even though he got a D+ in Japanese that freshman year, he rallied and will end his college career with a 3.5 GPA.

3. Make sure your ADHD teen develops core life skills before leaving for college. All teens should prepare for college by learning certain core survival skills. College freshmen should know how to do their own laundry, get themselves up on time every morning, budget their money, and more.

This is even more important for teens with ADHD and other learning challenges. ADHD college freshmen have the additional stressors of managing their own conditions on top of what is a challenging transition already.

By making sure your child is prepared in every other way for college, your new college freshman will be free to focus on his/her specialized needs. It’s quick and easy to assess your child’s preparedness for college. Just take our online College Survival Quiz at

Then have your teens take the test as well. It’s a great way to start a conversation about college readiness.


What You Should Do Today to Prepare Your Child for Tomorrow

It’s time to look ahead.

What are your goals for your child’s first year in college? What skills does your teen need to develop in order to meet those goals. By taking the long view, you can start to make small but meaningful changes in the way you guide your child.

Then decide on the structures and strategies that will help your child reach these goals. Write these down! Not only will it help you organize your plans, but it will also allow you to compare your child’s results to the original plan.

Your child should be involved in designing the plan. After all, s/he needs to be the one to implement it!

Then have your child put the plan into practice! The sooner you start, the more likely your child will succeed!


What is your best idea for preparing your ADHD teen for college? We want to hear about it! Please share in the comment section below.

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