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You Don’t Have to Start College Right Away (Or At All!) - #ADHD

Not everyone wants to go to college right after they graduate from high school — and that’s okay! If your teen with ADHD isn’t ready to dive into more schooling, consider these productive alternatives to a four-year college instead. Sometimes, distance and perspective provide the best education…


If you’re parenting a high school student who learns differently or has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the expectation that she’ll move on to a four-year college is probably weighing on your mind.

You’ve sweated and fought for your child through 12 years of schooling; now, look at things objectively. Consider her academic strengths, weaknesses, and her passions, and ask yourself: Is she really ready for college?

Students with ADHD and learning disabilities often benefit from some time away from school to mature, learn how their minds work best, and set long-term goals. There are many productive alternatives to jumping into a four-year education — allow yourself to imagine a different path for your child. Here are a few:

Start at a community college. This gives students a chance to learn to juggle competing interests and hone academic skills. Best of all, your child won’t have to uproot his life. He can earn transfer credits without having to deal with the pressures of a four-year school.

Find a job, an internship, or enroll in vocational school. I’m not talking about flipping burgers, but about skilled occupations, such as a computer technician, veterinary assistant, paralegal, or an internship in almost any field. A job after high school needn’t be a life sentence. Working for a year or two will build maturity and help him find direction.

Prepare with a specialized academic/career program. The College Internship Program (CIP) gives teens with learning differences a chance to develop career, social, life, and academic skills while living “on campus” with fellow students. CIP offers programs in Massachusetts, Florida, Indiana, and California.

Travel the world. Teens (and adults!) with ADHD tend to be a high-energy, love-to-please, save-the-world crowd. Your teen may want to spend a year as a volunteer, building homes in a third-world country. She could join the coast guard, become a park ranger, or simply travel and soak up a different culture.

While these options often require money and time, they can give your child a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn more about herself.

While the linear crowd may consider it “risky” to put off college, the greater risk may come from attending college too soon. We’ve all seen students and graduates with ADHD or LD who often (despite good grades) end up bouncing from major to major, then from job to job, unable to find happiness or direction in life.

A break before college can be the greatest gift in the world, the one we all wish we’d had. So whether your child takes time off to find himself and connect with the world, works step-by-step toward a traditional college education, or eventually decides that college just isn’t right for him, he’s simply taking a creative path toward lifelong happiness and success. And isn’t that what we want for our kids?

College Q+A for Kids with ADHD

Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them honestly. One or two Nos don’t necessarily mean that college isn’t right for now, but they do raise a red flag. More than two, and you need to consider a school with a very strong support system — or look at other options.

  • ADHD UNDER CONTROL Does she understand ADHD, and know how to manage symptoms? Can she concentrate in class and get homework done on her own — at least most of the time?

  • MATURITY Off on her own, could she take care of herself and handle the temptations that will pull her in 20 directions at once?

  • ENERGY Is she fried after every day of high school? Does she spend most of her time out of school hiding under the covers, rather than anticipating four more years of school?

  • PASSION Does she have a passion or focus that will pull her through the long nights and the early-morning classes? For many students with ADHD, a specific goal — “I want to study cinema and work on films” — is necessary for college survival and success.


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