Ask An Expert / College

How should my daughter with ADHD choose a college?

And how much should she reveal in the admissions process?

Susan J. Schwartz, MAEd
Susan J. Schwartz, MAEd

Learning Specialist

Child MInd Institute

My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive type) a few years ago. Aside from offering her extended time for math tests, her private school in NYC never really helped us address the issue. In fact, they treated it like a dirty secret. Medication wasn't her thing, and she's muddled through school. Now she is a senior and looking for colleges and doesn't want to repeat the impersonal, stressful experience of high school. She won't have extended time on the SAT or ACT. She wants to study language and science in college, with an eye toward Med school.

My question is: how do we deal with the ADHD issue when selecting, visiting, and applying for college? What should we be looking for in a college? What questions should we be asking? And what should be revealed on the application?

A: Thanks for your question. It is good that you and your daughter are thinking seriously about her strengths and weaknesses when choosing and applying to colleges.

Your daughter’s diagnosis shouldn’t harm her chances of getting into the right school. After all, her record and her essay will speak for themselves. There’s no reason she needs to talk about her ADHD in applying unless it’s part of an essay she wants to write.

But it’s very important to choose a learning environment that will work to her strengths. Before she visits her first campus, she should consider: Do I want the stimulation of the city or the quiet of a rural environment? Do I work best with peers or by myself? Do I learn more in small discussion classes or lecture courses? Then she can ask the school corresponding questions: What’s the largest class size? Is there opportunity for small study groups?

During college visits your daughter should make sure she is connecting with the people she meets. Are they people she can see herself being friends with? She should shoot for a college that she thinks could feel like home — a place where she will be taken care of and where she will learn to take care of herself. It’s also good for her to observe some classes she is interested in, and some professors she would be working with.

Once your daughter is admitted and has chosen a college, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about accommodations. Openly and honestly gathering information is crucial, and every institute of higher learning is required to offer accommodations to their students. Meet with the Disability Concerns office at the college, too. Make sure you have updated evaluation documents for your daughter’s specific accommodations.

And right now, as a senior in high school, your daughter should practice her advocacy skills so that she is ready to talk to professors and administrators about what she needs. I always say, start putting your toolkit together now and practice your skills. I would also say that medication is a tool in the toolkit for ADHD. It’s not for everyone, but itis important to learn the benefits and drawbacks of medication. Support is very important when going off to college as an independent learner.

Finally, it is always good to set goals and aspirations, and I think having an eye towards med school is a wonderful endgame.