Assessing College Readiness: Are Students with ADHD Prepared for the Transition to College?

Key Takeaway:

The transition from high school to college presents significant challenges for students with ADHD given the reliance on strong executive functioning skills for successful academic performance and independent daily living. However, providing opportunities to develop in key areas such as self-determination prior to graduation from high school, both within educational and home environments, can help to improve college readiness for students with (and without) ADHD. —Taryn McBrayne

What was Shared:

While all first-year college students encounter challenges associated with the transition from high school to independent living, young adults with ADHD tend to face increased difficulties. According to Weyandt & DuPaul (2013),1 “college students with ADHD tend to have lower grade point averages (GPAs), take longer to graduate, and have higher dropout rates than those without ADHD.” In their article, authors Canu et al. (2021) seek to explore how “ADHD-related cognitive deficits” may impact the transition to college for those students diagnosed with ADHD. 

Canu et al. (2021) outline three key domains that may influence overall readiness and successful adaptation to higher education, including self-determination, academic skills, and daily living skills. 

Self Determination 

“Self-determined people understand their own strengths and weaknesses, can solve problems, regulate their behavior, and effectively make decisions.”2 As stated by Canu et al. (2021), students with ADHD tend to “have characteristics that could impede various facets of self-determination,” including challenges with executive functioning, behavioral inhibition, and self-regulation. 

Academic Skills 

“Different expectations of professors and the structural differences of the college curriculum” may make for increased academic challenges for students with ADHD. As Maitland & Quinn (2011)2 noted, “critical reading, note taking, study skills . . . are all among the competencies that are important” in supporting students with ADHD in their college careers.  

Daily Living Skills 

Canu et al. (2021) explain that “impairment in general life skills is positively associated with ADHD’s cardinal symptoms of hyperactivity–impulsivity and inattention.” Therefore, “skills such as money management . . . and organization of one’s living space [that] are important for successful transition to college”3 are more likely to be underdeveloped in those with ADHD.

Key Findings

Considering these three aforementioned domains, the authors conducted a study of 2,893 participants from 4 different universities across the United States, 347 of which identified as having ADHD. The key findings of the study can be found below: 

  • “Evident deficits emerged for the college students with ADHD in the readiness area of self-determination and academic readiness area (i.e., managing assignments, taking notes, and preparing for tests).”
  • “Even more distinct deficits in readiness were noted for college students with ADHD in the daily living area.”
  • Academic achievement in high school contributes to “at least a portion of the readiness gap between those with and without ADHD.”
  • Readiness deficits and their associated impacts were most notable in women with ADHD. 
  • It is important to note that previous treatment for ADHD (ie. medication), led to an increased likelihood that students were able to be more aware of and mitigate academic impairments related to ADHD, improving college readiness. 

Key Implications 

  1. Interventions at home or school prior to the end of high school may help to address readiness, particularly in the area of self-determination.  
  2. Collaboration between parent and child is key in preparing students with ADHD for college. Canu et al., suggest that “parents should promote experiences that can lead to readiness skill development as opposed to simply scaffolding the completion of their child’s tasks” (i.e., laundry, cooking, etc.). 

Future studies in this area should explore how identification as part of a minority group and socioeconomic status may influence overall readiness, and further investigation into the role of executive functioning in this transition is recommended. 

Summarized Article:

Canu, W. H., Stevens, A. E., Ranson, L., Lefler, E. K., LaCount, P., Serrano, J. W., Willcutt, E., & Hartung, C. M. (2021). College Readiness: Differences Between First-Year Undergraduates With and Without ADHD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(6), 403–411. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420972693 

Summary by: Taryn McBrayne — Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.

Researcher Will Cantu participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Weyandt, L. L., & DuPaul, G. J. (2013). The performance of college students with and without ADHD: Neuropsychological, academic, and psychosocial functioning. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 35, 421–435.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-013-9351-8
  2. Maitland, T. E. L., & Quinn, P. O. (2011). Ready for takeoff: Preparing your teen with ADHD or LD for college. Magination Press.
  3. Sibley, M. H., & Yeguez, C. E. (2018). Managing ADHD at post-secondary transition: A qualitative study of parent and young adult perspectives. School Mental Health, 10, 352–371. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-018-9273-4
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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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