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How to Help Your ADHD Teen with Their College Applications

parenting kids with adhd

The college application process can be daunting for a teen with ADHD. As a parent, there are a few simple things you can do to help your child achieve their goals.

Get Ready

No matter how you slice it, college applications are intimidating. Laying a decade's worth of academic and extracurricular achievements bare so that a complete stranger can pass judgement and potentially decide your future is scary. For teens with ADHD, it can be a struggle not only to stay on task and get the physical application finished - it's also a test of their confidence and an opportunity to set them up for success. If you're the parent of a teen with ADHD, there are a number of things you can do to make the application process easier.

Get Set

Before your child puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), a little bit of preparation can help ensure they're using their time and energy wisely.

Find the Right Fit

Encourage your teen to find schools the serve both their needs and their wants. If they had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in high school, it's worth looking for a college that also offers an IEP or similar academic support services. Balance these kinds of considerations with location, budget, and the things your teen wants - the fun stuff like sports, clubs, and other opportunities.

College campus in the fall

Decide Whether or Not to Disclose

Your teen can choose to voluntarily disclose the fact that they have ADHD during the college application process. Schools cannot deny them entry because of it, and some even offer specialized ADHD support services, but require students to disclose their diagnoses before they can make use of the resources. However, colleges aren't required to change their admission standards or alter their classes in any way, so it's worth taking the time to consider carefully if disclosure is right for your teen.

Explore Financial Aid Options

In this era of skyrocketing tuition costs, most college students rely on some form of financial assistance to fund their educations, whether it's student loans or scholarship programs. Start exploring your options by helping your teen complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as the FAFSA). This document is required for all students who intend to apply for federal or state student loans, as well as many scholarship, fellowship, and grant programs. Be on the lookout for scholarships for ADHD students and encourage your child to apply. Keep in mind that since ADHD is categorized as a learning disorder/disability, your teen might also qualify for more generalized scholarships aimed at LD students.

Regardless of the combination of financial aid options that are made available to your child, be sure to discuss the pro and cons of each opportunity with them in depth. Student debt can be a heavy burden for new graduates and it can be hard for high school students to grasp the long-term consequences on their own, so help your teen understand the implications of taking out loans before they sign any paperwork.

Penny jar

Find Recommendations

When it comes to getting the most effective letters of recommendation, make sure your child draws on people they've already built relationships with. A teacher who has been deeply involved with your teen's schoolwork will give a better letter of recommendation than one they only see in passing for homeroom. Encourage your teen to approach teachers in person to request recommendations well ahead of any deadlines. It also doesn't hurt to have your child prepare thank-you notes for those who agree, as these letters can be both time- and labor-intensive.

Application Time

Once your child has compiled a wish list of schools, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of the applications themselves.

Break It Down

College applications can be long and time-consuming to fill out. Even the Common Application, which can be submitted to many schools at the same time, is a multi-section document that can take hours to fill out. To prevent distraction from sabotaging important deadlines, help your teen break the process down into small, manageable chunks of time. Encourage them to work on one section of an application each day or take breaks in between each section. If your teen struggles with writing, you may want to act as proofreader to help ensure they're communicating their ideas clearly.

Papers flying.

Emphasize Their Strengths

Academic achievements aren't the only factor that admissions committees consider when they look at a prospective student's application. If your teen's grades were less than stellar, that's okay! Open-ended application questions and essays are great opportunities for your teen to connect the dots between their extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, and work experience. For instance, lessons your teen has learned in leadership roles outside of school could make a great topic for an application essay. Help them highlight their strengths to explain to admissions committee members why they will do well at their school of choice.

Rehearse Interviews

Before a university offers your child admission, they may be required to go to the school and interview with an admission's official. This can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the admissions process. To help ease your teen's fears, try rehearsing some of the most common interview questions at home. Keep in mind that this is a conversation, not a script-reading - this rehearsal is more about giving your teen an idea of what to expect than nailing down concrete answers. Admissions counselors will want to get to know prospective students honestly and organically, so encourage your teen to be themselves.

Dad talking to son

Visit Schools In Person

Many schools will host on-campus events for applicants even before they've made offers of admission. Encourage your teen to take advantage of the opportunities to actually experience the institution before they make a final decision. A school that looks good on paper may have a vibe that is all wrong. In addition, if you have the opportunity to accompany your child to an event, go! The school may offer special sessions for parents that provide guidance for the transition process and information on local resources. It also may grant you some peace of mind to see where your child will be spending the next chapter of their lives.

In many ways, applying to college for a teen with ADHD is no different than for any other person their age. Sure, there are some challenges, but in the end, encouraging your child to think ahead, make smart choices, and showcase the experiences that set them apart will see them sailing successfully through the college application process.

By Abree Murch
February 2017
parenting kids with adhd parenting tips & tricks

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