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The College Planning and Application Process for Students With ADHD

Successfully Navigating the Process and Finding the Best Fit College


Updated November 12, 2012

The College Planning and Application Process for Students With ADHD

There are a lot of steps involved in planning and applying to colleges. If you are a student with ADHD don’t hesitate to ask for support in developing a college plan that best suits your individual needs and strengths.

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Selecting and applying to colleges can be an overwhelming endeavor for any teenager. It requires extensive planning, organizing, attention to details, and persistence of effort to complete the process successfully and on time -- all tasks that can be challenging, especially for a student with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Sometimes just knowing where to begin can be daunting. "The first three steps of the college admissions process are decidedly the most difficult," says Keith Kosierowski M.Ed. "Self-awareness and the managing of time, effort and emotion are king in this process. They take large amounts of sustained effort and skill."

Kosierowski is an ADHD coach and consultant who specializes in assisting students with ADHD and their families in college placement and transition. His company, Kosierowski Education Group, provides organizational materials, education, and support to decrease the stress, time, and money associated with the college admissions process.

The college planning and application process involves many steps. Going through these steps in a thoughtful, organized fashion is essential in helping a student navigate the application maze and find the best-fit educationally. Kosierowski outlines these important steps below, including goals for each of the steps listed.

Steps in Planning and Applying to College

Step 1: Is College Right For Me?
Goal: Establish that when compared to the other options one has for after high school, college is the right choice. Be able to commit to your decision and if your choice it is still a maybe, then further information is needed.

Step 2: Getting Organized
Goal: To make effective decisions, it is important to feel and be organized through this complex and overwhelming process. Key to this step is to identify strategies and tools necessary to navigate the process from start to finish. School counselors are amazing, but also overworked. As a family's relationships deteriorate or the process comes to a stand still, find an ADHD coach and / or a college admissions consultant to support you through the process.

Step 3: Get to Know Yourself
Goal: Often the greatest challenge throughout the process is to establish an all important realistic sense of self-awareness. Avoid the myth that this can't be done, and be able to identify up to 3 meaningful college majors, and post-college careers choices.

Step 4: Creating a Meaningful College List
Goal: Research and identify a list 6 to 10 meaningful, rigorous, right-fit colleges that offer great value.

Step 5: The Application Process
Goal: Complete application requirements and apply to colleges on your list. Tasks include: completing standardized tests, writing essays, data entry of biographical and other information, gaining school counselor and teacher recommendations, and more.

Step 6: Financial Aid / Scholarships & Making an Effective Decision
Goal: Get finances in order as soon as possible. Submit financial aid and scholarship forms. In preparation, consider the high likelihood of a need for a fifth and perhaps sixth year of college in order to reach graduation requirements. Also look at resources given the possibility of wanting a masters or doctoral degree.

Step 7: Successfully Transition into College
Goal: Take hold of expectations, emotions, and awareness of basic life and time management needs while attending college. Most students wash out of college because they failed to prepare PRIOR to the first semester and year. Read more about transitioning to college with ADHD.

Finding a College that is the "Right-Fit"

It takes time to go through the process of identifying colleges that will best meet an individual student's needs. Students with ADHD often benefit from academic accommodations and additional supports to help make the transition to college smoother. When creating your list of top college choices, be sure to take into consideration the level of academic support services that are available for students with ADHD at each college. Learn more about ADHD Support Services in college.

Kosierowski shares these additional tips to help teenagers with ADHD in identifying colleges that will best meet their needs.

  • Set time aside as early as sophomore year to experience a wide variety of college visits
  • Be clear and intentional around matching student learning styles with a colleges profile
  • Be sure to look seriously at small- and medium-sized private colleges, as they often emphasize smaller class sizes, group projects, and discussion-based learning
  • Seek college environments that feel like "home" when you visit
  • Choose colleges NOT solely based on reputation, yet more so on their being rigorous and "right-fits"
  • Colleges that emphasize internships, practicums, group-based activities, and hands-on learning may be highly advantageous to a person with ADHD
  • Partner, partner, and partner some more with trusted positive individuals throughout the admissions process
  • Use full year calendars to plan ahead, charts, and graphic organizers to organize tasks and information, and use voice-to-text software or simple dictation to another person when forming essays
  • Parents are invited to dedicate significant time and effort to support and organize the process with the student. Avoid writing essays for them!
  • If a student lacks a true excitement for attending college in the spring of senior year, seriously consider taking a gap year to gain focus and commitment

Related Articles:

The Impact of ADHD on College Students
Tips for College Students With ADHD
ADHD Scholarships


Keith Kosierowski M.Ed., email correspondence. November 5, 2012.

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