I’ve worked with many students with various types of disabilities who attended college. In many cases, the student did very well in high school but found that college was much more difficult than they thought, often for reasons they didn’t expect. Many students who came to me after doing poorly in college had Attention Deficit Disorder, and they often underestimated how this would affect their studies. Below are five “myths” that I’ve encountered regarding ADD and college.
College Will Be No Different Than High School
I’ve learned that high schools can be very different from each other, so the true differences between high school and college can vary. In general, there are significant structure changes: High school tends to be a very structured time, where in college a student needs to impose their own structure on their lives. Being organized and motivated enough to estimate how long projects or tasks will take, tracking them in order of importance, and seeing them through completion are key actions students must master in college. For students with ADD, these needs can overtax already fragile capacities for executive functioning, focus and concentration, as well as organizational abilities. In other words, students with ADD may find it much more difficult to perform well academically in college.
Colleges Will Reduce The Workload
As a general rule, all students, including those with disabilities must satisfactorily fulfill all the requirements for a given course. After working with colleges across the U.S. for a number of years, I’ve only rarely seen a reduced workload be used, and this was in extreme situations. Students with ADD, or any other disability, should expect to do all the work that any other student would have to in order to pass the class, but they can do so with accommodations. To expect a reduced workload in college because a student has ADD will typically be incorrect. They will most likely have to do exactly the same type and amount of work that other students must do to pass the class.
A Disability Will Excuse Bad Grades
Similar to the workload issue, students with ADD must earn passing grades. There is no lower GPA standard for students with disabilities, and I’ve worked with many such students who were placed on academic probation, suspension, or dismissal from a college due to bad grades. Colleges expect a student to notify them if they feel that their disability will impact their grades, and the school may grant accommodations to help them overcome the impact of their condition. Performing poorly and then telling the college “wait, I have a disability” will not erase bad grades. There are some cases, like contracting a medical illness during the term, where a college may consider an appeal regarding grades. However, this is very different from a known issue that the student did not discuss with them ahead of time.
A Student Needs A “Special Program” In College If They Have ADD
The vast majority of students with disabilities that I’ve worked with performed well in regular colleges. There are special programs out there, but students and parents should weigh these carefully. Too often they are for “low functioning” students and the average student with ADD may feel out of place. Also, they can be very expensive and lead to little return on the monetary investment later. In one instance, a parent of a student with ADD contacted me and was strongly considering such a program, so she asked me to research it. It turned out that this program only offered a two-year degree, and that even after four years only half of the students graduated. It was also extremely expensive, with tuition, room, and board approaching $60,000 per year (Harvard was about $39,000 at the time). Unless truly needed, students with ADD will have better choices than a “special program.”
All Colleges Are Equal For Students With ADD
One of the most important factors for students with disabilities, including ADD, is college choice. Colleges can vary widely on factors like campus size and type, student population, and the overall size of the school. The factors of a given college can either help or hurt students with ADD. For example, urban campuses can be very distracting places, and some research has shown that urban settings can over-tax any individual’s executive functioning. For students with ADD, urban campuses can be over-distracting, and they may find more quiet suburban or even rural settings allow them to concentrate better.