Jack Estes DeBrabander’s College Survival Guide for Students With ADHD


According to a 2019 study by Statista.com, in 2018, there were 14.53 million college students in the U.S. enrolled in public colleges and 5.12 million students enrolled in private colleges. Of those who enter college, about 1.5 million have ADHD.

Jack Estes DeBrabander is one of them.

Currently attending Michigan State University to pursue his degree in Business Management and Communications, Jack has come to embrace his ADHD diagnosis. “The trick was getting into MSU,“ Jack said. “Being diagnosed with ADHD always gave me troubles with grades.” Jack also came up with several strategies to help students successfully navigate the college lifestyle.

Take Care Of Yourself First

The first difficult decision for someone with a diagnosis of ADHD is whether to take medicine to treat the ADHD or do it some other way, like through a specialized diet. Not one to let a diagnosis like that slow him down, Jack made the tough decision to use medication to help him with his focus and control. “Having to take Adderall is the worst thing anyone could ever imagine.” He then went on to say, “I have learned how to cope with the drug and pursue my college career.” If you find yourself struggling either with classes or maybe just being away from home for the first time, you may want to consider talking to a counselor. Not only can they help you understand the feelings that you’re having but will also be able to connect you to services available on and off campus. Another thing someone with a diagnosis of ADHD may choose to do or not do is to let their professor know about their diagnosis and see if they are willing to make any accommodations. Now if you have an IEP, by law, they need to make accommodations. However, if you don’t, maybe you can negotiate flexible dates for assignments as long as they are turned in by an agreed upon deadline. Another strategy is to contact the college disabilities office to learn what services they have for students. Tutors, note takers, oral exams in lieu of written ones, extra time on tests, and other assistive technologies can be the difference in passing or failing a class.

Keeping Up With Classwork

“Professors here have a tendency to lull you into a false sense of security,” Jack says. “Everyone knows that the first day is kind of a blow-off class where they just go over the syllabus and maybe go over a quick class assignment. But some instructors hit the ground running and make you read two chapters the first night.” This is what trips up a lot of ADHD students. Many students assume that they can take the first weeks off from reading, and before long, the instructor has doubled or even tripled the workload. What’s best is to not only do the assignments as they are assigned right away, but whenever possible, read ahead. That way when the instructor is teaching, you already have the foundation about the lesson and maybe even have something more to contribute to the discussion.

Organizing Your Time

Another key to college success is being able to effectively organize your time. “Of all of the strategies, this one is the most important because it is something that I plan to keep doing well after I graduate from MSU.” It’s important to keep an updated calendar that is connected to your phone. I like getting a notification on my phone that lets me know what I have to do for the day and what I need to start working on.” Looking at the syllabus and adding readings to your daily calendar as well as putting due dates for assignments is just the first step. Adding a “Start to work on…” or “Read chapters 3 and 4 by…” are good ways to keep you ahead of the curve.

According to DeBrabander, “There’s a great video out there called Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinatora Master Procrastinator by Tim Urban. It really makes it clear why waiting to the last minute to finish assignments in college isn’t a good idea. It also gives me a good laugh because I can see myself in what he’s saying.”

Set Yourself Up For Success 

People with ADHD tend to live in the now and not focus so much on the consequences their decisions have on their future. It might be a good idea to surround yourself with other ADHD people so you can help each other with the struggle that is higher education. However, these same people may be the ones who are fine with staying out all night even though it’s only Tuesday! The key is to find people who share your same interests and are serious about doing well in school. Maybe start or join a study group. Also, you may need to ask your friends to not call you after a certain time of the night or make an arrangement with your roommate what are “designated study times” when there’s no distractions like TV or visitors. You can also find a nice, quiet, distraction-free location on campus if that’s what it takes to help you stay on track. Lastly, you need to know if you are a morning person or an afternoon person. If you find that you do your best work early in the morning, do the hardest, or most boring reading then, and then save the easier work for another time of the day. 

Reward Yourself For A Job Well Done

People tend to do better when they’re working for some type of reward. It can be as simple as watching or streaming a movie once you finish a chapter, or maybe even treat yourself to a pizza when you are done preparing for a test. It’s important to keep your brain fed while your studying too. Sugary snacks are a no-no. Have a protein bar or some other healthy snack in between study sessions. You can even head to the gym or take a run to get the blood flowing. Playing video games can also be a reward, but only after you have reached your goal. Another thing you can do is find someone to share the reward with. Let them know ahead of time what goal you are working towards and they can help keep you accountable, especially if there’s something in it for them too.

“So far,” concludes Jack, “college has been the greatest time in my life! I’m enjoying my time here and learning a lot at Michigan State. And I know it’s because I’m making smart choices. I’m determined to graduate and do great things once I leave. Literally, my success is entirely up to me.”

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