Obtaining Accommodations in College: A Step-by-step Process
Go back to ADHD and college.
To obtain accommodations in college, you must inform the school that you live with ADHD. Every college has its own procedures on how to obtain services so it is important to check your college’s specific policies and procedures first. This section outlines the typical process for obtaining accommodations but your college may have a slightly different process.
- Identify accommodations. You are expected to understand the nature of ADHD, identify your own support needs and know the kinds of accommodations you require to address these needs. This kind of work is supported under the transition planning requirements in IDEA, so if you are receiving special education services in high school, you should have this information available before graduating.
- Register with the disability resource center. You will need to register with your school’s disability resource center or appropriate disabilities office if you think you will need accommodations as a student. You will need to disclose that you have a disability and share what accommodations you think you may need to succeed in your classes. Often, the disability resource center will offer a menu of services for you to choose from. You should register with the disability resource center before you face serious challenges in your classes because of a lack of accommodations.
- Provide documentation. The disability resource center will require documentation that you are living with ADHD before you can be provided with accommodations. This documentation should provide enough information for you and your school to deem appropriate accommodations. Generally, your most recent IEP or 504 plan will not be accepted as adequate documentation. You will want the following information available when requesting accommodations from your college:
- information and documentation showing your diagnosis of ADHD, including assessments;
- types of academic accommodations that have worked for you in the past;
- types of academic accommodations you anticipate needing in college;
- how ADHD can contribute to your success in college; and
- how ADHD affects your capacity to learn and study effectively.
- Receive and review accommodations. Once you submit your request for accommodations, your school will review it. If you have requested a specific accommodation, the school may approve your request or offer an alternative accommodation if it is more effective. You should expect your school to work with you in an interactive process to identify appropriate supports. If you find an accommodation is not working for you and the results are not what you expected, then contact the disability resource center as soon as possible so you can work together to resolve the problem.
- Repeat the process. You will have to repeat the process of requesting accommodations each semester, with new classes and new professors. It is important to stay on top of your needs and make sure you submit your request early, before classes start each semester.
Many colleges require a Professional Assessment by a psychologist or medical doctor, which can be expensive. You may need a new assessment to provide this required documentation if previous evaluations are too old. You will be required to pay for the evaluation.
A Note about Accomodations
Although your school is required to provide reasonable accommodations as necessary, it does not have to provide devices or services of a personal nature including tutoring, training, devices for personal use or study, personal attendants and other related services. However, your school may provide these accommodations so it may be worth asking. Additionally, your school does not have to change substantive content of a course, lower or make substantial modifications to essential academic requirements or make adjustments that would result in undue financial or administrative burden.
Reasonable accommodations are modifications to policy, practice, instructional delivery and the environment. You are still expected to learn from the same curriculum and master the same content. Common accommodations provided to students living with ADHD include:
- arranging for priority registration;
- reducing course load;
- substituting one course for another;
- allowing note takers and recording devices;
- allowing extended time for testing;
- extending deadlines for assignments;
- tutoring (sometimes the disability resource center can match you with a tutor according to your individual needs);
- providing study skills training; and
- offering an individual room for taking exams.
Accommodations must be determined on the basis of your disability and individual needs. Your school is not allowed to charge you for providing an accommodation nor charge you more for participating in its programs or activities than it charges students without disabilities.
Most colleges offer a range of support services that include tutoring, personal counseling, writing centers, career counseling and workshops on time management, budgeting and stress management. These programs are usually offered to all students through the disability resource center or campus counseling center. You are encouraged to check these kinds of supports out in addition to any individualized accommodations you may need.
The following strategies can help you manage common ADHD symptoms to ensure a successful college experience.
- Create a support network .A large support network in college is crucial to combat feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, stress and frustration—common feelings associated with ADHD. It can take time to create a support network at school, so you may want to stay in touch with high school friends and close relatives who can provide comfort, support and a listening ear when you are starting college. There are many opportunities in college to connect with others, including joining study groups or intramural sports, befriending individuals with common interests and being matched up with student mentors who can serve as role models and provide guidance. If you are living in the dorms, be sure to connect with the resident advisor (RA) on your floor. The RA can be a great source of information and a good listener. You may also want to include family members, physicians, counselors, coaches and other treatment providers in your support network.
You should surround yourself with peers who can “show the way” to succeeding in college. NAMI has student-run, student-led NAMI on Campus groups across the country that can help students living with ADHD build their support network. Active Minds also has student-run groups on campuses. You may also want to check out StrengthofUs.org, a social networking website and online resource center for college-aged young adults living with mental health conditions.
- Develop supportive strategies. You will want to develop personal strategies for success to supplement any accommodations you receive from your school. For example, when you first receive a class syllabus, create a schedule of what you need to read, study and accomplish each week and add it to a daily planner. College students living with ADHD often use personal digital assistants (PDA) to help with managing time, staying organized and keeping appointments. Invest in computer programs, books on tape or other technological software that can help you succeed. Stress-relieving activities (e.g., breathing exercises, massage therapy and yoga) can also help you do well in school. Do not forget a healthy diet. Try to avoid putting on “the freshman 10”—pounds that is. A healthy diet will contribute to your success in school and help you to feel better in the process. For more on staying healthy and managing your disorder, visit NAMI’s Hearts & Minds program.
- Prioritize and set goals. There are many different demands in college and much you will want to accomplish as a student, so it is important to prioritize and focus on a few goals at a time—make keeping up with assignments a priority from the start. Create a plan for yourself that has clear expectations and a realistic timeline to reach any goals you have. Consider working with a life coach to lesson any feelings of being overwhelmed and to help you prioritize, identify what it will take to achieve your goals and plan accordingly. A coach can also help you develop social skills and learn how to handle numerous social interactions that are important to succeeding in college and life afterwards. Coaches are often available through a school’s career center or through The International Coach Directory.
- Create structure. Establishing a daily schedule of supportive activities including homework, studying, social outings, sleeping and exercising helps to reduce stress and accomplish academic and personal goals. Opt for early classes, which help create structure and give you a reason to start your day, or go to the library after classes to complete assignments so you can relax the rest of the day. Consider volunteering or interning in an area that interests you. These kinds of activities provide an opportunity for you to focus on things you enjoy, build positive experiences and try out careers. All of your supportive activities should be written into a daily planner and your time should be budgeted accordingly.
- Build on your strengths. People are disempowered when opportunities for success are not built into their lives. You should search online before school starts to identify opportunities to become involved on campus in ways that play to your strengths. Having these opportunities in place will help you feel confident and successful. It is vital that your strengths are taken into account when you are building your support network, setting goals, developing supportive strategies and creating a daily routine.
There are several steps you can take to support your child as he or she transitions to college. Here are a few key strategies:
- Empower your child. In college, students are responsible for disclosing and advocating for their needs. You should involve your child in developing his or her IEP and transition plan in high school as soon as possible to help prepare him or her for this responsibility. This will increase your child’s awareness of his or her accommodation needs, improve his or her communication skills and reinforce self-determination and self-advocacy. Encourage your child to take on more responsibility and to express his or her needs to others. Having these skills will enable your child to take control of his or her health and well-being.
- Prepare. Work with your child to come up with a game plan on how to address any challenges or issues that may arise during the college experience. Identify with your child symptoms or behaviors that may indicate help is needed and determine what that help may look like. Ensure your child has a support system in place before heading off to school—including mental health providers, coaches, school personnel, peers and family members.
- Celebrate your child. Celebrate your child’s successes and victories in college—not roadblocks, challenges or failings. Make sure your child’s interests, goals and strengths guide any planning for college. Set your child up for success as much as possible.
- Understand policies. Understand your child’s school policies regarding under what circumstances the school will notify you about your child’s health and well-being. On the flip side, make sure you know who to contact at the school if you are concerned about your child. Consider having your child sign a HIPAA release if he or she would like you to remain involved in his or her health care.
- Openly communicate. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Be direct, honest and willing to listen. You are in the best position to notice if your child is experiencing challenges in school or if something is wrong. Talk regularly with your child about school, how he or she is feeling and if there is anything you can do to support him or her. Always encourage your child to access any services and supports that are available if help is needed.
For more information on helping your child succeed in college, check out The Jed Foundation’s parent guide, Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health: What can Parents Do?
Visit the Resources section for additional information and references.