MyStudentBody - Accommodating Students with ADHD

Accommodating Students with ADHD

A young man slumped over his books looking overwhelmed

Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are attending college in increasing numbers. It's estimated that between 2-8% of U.S. college students have ADHD.

Adapting to the college learning environment is a challenge for most students. But for students with ADHD, it can be particularly difficult. They are more likely to have trouble with career decision-making, study skills, self-efficacy, and academic adjustment. They also tend to earn lower GPAs than other students. Studies have shown that students with ADHD not only have more difficulty with academic performance, they also have more depressive symptoms during their transition to college. In addition, they are at higher risk for abusing alcohol and other drugs.

Only about 20% of people with ADHD attend college, and of those students, approximately 5% graduate. But students with ADHD can succeed. Institutional support and understanding can make a big difference.

Students with ADHD are covered by the Americans with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation Act, which requires schools to provide appropriate academic accommodations for students with disabilities. Schools are not required, however, to identify their pupils' disabilities or diagnose them. It's up to the students to seek out campus services and request academic accommodations to help them succeed. But college administrators do need to make sure that those services and support systems are in place and accessible.

If your campus has dedicated staff to assist students with disabilities, ADHD is probably already on their radar: students with ADHD make up an estimated 25% of college students receiving disability services.

Among the most common accommodations for ADHD are:

  • Priority registration
  • Reduced course load
  • Modified or substituted core requirements
  • Allowing note-takers to accompany a student to class
  • Extended time for testing

Prescription Stimulants Risks

Another ADHD-related issue on campus is the abuse of stimulant medications that manage the disorder. These medications are designed to improve attentiveness; as a result, stimulants are attractive drugs of abuse for college students who don't have diagnosed learning disabilities. One survey found that 36% of students had illicitly used prescription stimulants. These stimulants are often obtained from friends or acquaintances who are taking this medication for an ADHD diagnosis. Students who get the medications from friends may be unaware that these transactions are illegal.

Some students (including men, members of fraternities and sororities, students with low GPAs, and pupils at more competitive colleges in the Northeast) are more likely to misuse prescription stimulants; they use these medications to improve their academic performance—which is the reason that the pills are also known as "study drugs." In addition, prescription stimulants may increase students' endurance for partying, and some students may use the drugs for weight loss.

ADHD stimulant drugs are not without health risks, however: they can raise a person's blood pressure, cause irregular heartbeats, and increase the risk of heart attack, seizure, or stroke in the people who take them. Alcohol, or other prescription or over-the-counter medications, can increase the danger of side effects.

You can help students who have ADHD—and those who don't—by providing education about ways to accommodate disabilities, the appropriate use of stimulant medications, and the legal and physical dangers of sharing prescription stimulants. The MyStudentBody Essentials Course has information about safe use, storage, and disposal of medications. It also provides tips to help students resist the temptation to share their medications with others.


Barkley RA. Major life activity and health outcomes associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2002;63 Suppl 12:10-5. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from 

DuPaul GJ, Weyandt LL, O'Dell SM, Varejao M. College Students With ADHD: Current Status and Future Directions. Journal of Attention Disorders November 2009 vol. 13 no. 3 234-250. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from 

Johnston, L., O'Malley, P., & Bachman, J. (2004). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2003. Volume II: College students and young adults 19-45 (NIH Publication No. 04-5508). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, c. 267 pp.

Kessler, R. C., Adler, L., Barkley, R., Biederman, J., Conners, C. K., Demler, O., et al. (2006). The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 716-723.

Loe, I. M., & Feldman, H. M. (2007, January/February). Academic and Educational Outcomes of Children with ADHD. Ambulatory Pediatrics, 7(2), supplement.

Low, K. & Gendaszek, A. (2002). Illicit use of psychostimulants among college students: a preliminary study. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 7(3), 283-287.

McCabe, S., Knight, J., Teter, C., & Wechsler, H. (2005).  Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: prevalence and correlates from a national survey.  Addiction, 99, 96-106.

Norwalk, K., Norvilitis, J. M., & MacLean, M. G. (2008, July). ADHD symptomology and its relationship to factors associated with college adjustment. Journal of Attention Disorders. Retrieved October 30, 2008, from

Rabiner DL, Anastopoulos AD, Costello J, Hoyle RH, Swartzwelder HS. Adjustment to college in students with ADHD. J Atten Disord. 2008 May;11(6):689-99. Epub 2007 Aug 21. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from

Rasmussen, P., & Gillberg, C. (2000, November). Natural outcome of ADHD with developmental coordination disorder at 22 years: A controlled, longitudinal, community-based study. Journal of the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry, 39(11), 1424-1431.

Rostain, A. L., & Ramsay, J. R. (2007). College and High School Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: New Directions in Assessment and Treatment. ACHA Professional Development Program, 7-16.

Simoni-Wastila, L., Ritter, G., & Strickler, G. (2004).  Gender and other factors associated with the nonmedical use of abusable prescription drugs.  Substance Use and Misuse, 39(1), 1-23.

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2007, March). Students with disabilities preparing for postsecondary education: Know your rights and responsibilities [Brochure]. Jessup, MD: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved September 11, 2008, from 

U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. (2007). Catalyst. Spring 2007, Vol 8, No. 3. Retrieved October 12. 2011, from 

Weyandt LL, DuPaul GJ. ADHD in college students: Developmental findings. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 2008, Vol. 14 Issue 4, p311-319. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from