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How To Support Your ADHD Student’s Transition to College

Read Time: 4 minutes

Today I will teach you how to support your student with ADHD in their transition to college.

Taking action around the recommended steps will increase the chance of your student staying enrolled in and graduating college.

The key steps I will walk you through include how to:

  • Talk to your child about playing an active role in their college experience

  • Build routine now, so things run smoothly when your student moves out

  • Choose a program with robust supports for students with ADHD

Unfortunately, many parents do not plan effectively for this major shift and as a result, students with ADHD drop out at higher rates than their neurotypical peers.

Follow these steps to ensure your student succeeds and doesn't fall victim to the transition turmoil.

ADHD facts about college transitions and drop out rates

Why do students with ADHD drop out of college?

There are many reasons students with ADHD drop out of college after their first year. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Parents do not understand privacy laws and are not prepared for the loss of access to information and communication that occurs when their child turns 18

  • Students struggle to maintain a daily routine when they have been used to parents acting as their frontal lobe during high school

  • Students do not use accommodations or access them due to a lack of knowledge or embarrassment

Parents, by following these three steps, you can ensure a smooth transition to college.

ADHD facts about college transitions and drop out rates

Step 1: Talk with your child about your level of involvement

My colleague Christine of EF Ninja told me a cautionary tale about a parent whose child got alcohol poisoning while on campus, but because of privacy laws, the campus was unable to provide details or information for the parent to support their student.

What a nightmare!

Luckily, companies like Mama Bear have created affordable documents so that you can help your college-age student in an emergency.

But since you are a proactive parent, it doesn’t have to be an emergency, it can also be around helping them:

  • Arrange campus healthcare

  • Establish student housing

  • Reviewing portals so they can communicate with teachers

To set this up, sit with your child and ask them if they would like you to help them through the college transition process.

Let them know that by law you are unable to speak on their behalf unless they grant you power of attorney, but if they are open to it, you can work together to set that up for a limited time period.

By involving them in the process, they will have the chance to take executive ownership and build those EF skills.

If you are not sure about how to have this conversation, consider trying out our Family Team process as a structured approach for a conversation like this.

If you decide not to use Mama Bear above, work with your student to sign a written consent form on behalf of their parents and make it as broad as possible, like this:

"All categories of my educational records can be shared with my parents."

Learn more about that from this article.

ADHD facts about college transitions and drop out rates

Step 2: Set up a weekly routine

So many students enter college used to having home-cooked meals, their laundry done, and parents acting as their frontal lobe.

So how do you prepare them for this transition?

The secret is in building resilience through incremental shifts.

By providing them with opportunities to “fail forward” they will learn new skills and grow.

Parents here are some things you can do in the meantime, to prepare them for this shift:

  • Sit with them each Sunday and have them plan out their weekly activities

  • Block out time for studying, chores, meal prep, and extra curriculars

  • Teach them how to set up a budget

Above all, don't do everything for them -- give them just enough support to move forward.

If this sounds overwhelming, remember these are all things a skilled executive function coach is trained and practiced in teaching!

ADHD facts about college transitions and drop out rates

Step 3: Identify appropriate supports and accommodations

Many parents and students do not realize that the 504 or IEP plan does not travel to college.

However, many campuses have disability resource departments that support students with ADHD.

There are many benefits that can be unlocked from working with disability resources department which include:

  • Early registration access

  • Longer time on tests

  • Being excused for tardiness

  • Receive audio and visual recordings of a lecture

  • An advocate to resolve issues with professors, if needed

How parents can help:

  • Investigate and evaluate support centers at different colleges in advance.

  • Inquire about the process for accessing accommodations and the necessary documentation.

  • Reach out to colleges to gather information on disability programs, including pre-college or summer initiatives.

  • Explore available interventions, services, treatments, coaching, skill-building groups, counseling, and other supports for students.

  • Confirm the required documentation for health services to prescribe ADHD medication and provide treatment.

ADHD facts about college transitions and drop out rates

Bonus: Notable programs with disability resources


The transition to college is no joke.

It takes preparation, focus and a can-do attitude. Some of the barriers that will come up are:

  • Privacy laws and a loss of communication and monitoring make it difficult for parents to help

  • Students struggle to maintain a daily routine without the structure of the home

  • Students do not use accommodations or access them

Use this guide to take proactive steps each week, setting your child up for a successful college experience. Good luck!

Check out these helpful resources for more ideas

About the author

Sean G. McCormick is a former public school special education teacher who founded Executive Function Specialists to ensure all students with ADHD and Autism have access to high-quality online executive function coaching services. 

With this mission in mind, he then founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains schools, educators, and individuals to learn the key approaches to improve executive function skills for students.

He is also the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, a business with a mission to provide adults with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to high-quality executive function coaching services that can be accessed through Self-Determination funding.

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About 👋

EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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