Starting college can be a challenging transition and even more so for students who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Not only is the coursework more challenging compared to high school, but it’s also most likely the first time that students are living independently away from home and in a completely new environment.

“In high school, you had a support team of family, friends and teachers combined with lots of structure to keep you on track, but in college you must learn how to form your own support team and structure your time yourself,” says Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET, Educational Therapist and Chair of the College Committee at the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

To do this, Miller says you’ll need to be more aware of your strengths and use them creatively in every situation. Here are some expert strategies that will help students with ADHD adapt to college.

Live By The Calendar

In high school, you basically followed the same schedule every day; however, in college, every day comes with different classes, activities and a new set of challenges. With so much unscheduled time, it’s important to structure your time wisely and break down larger projects into small tasks. For example, if you have a term paper due in three weeks, commit to hitting the library and creating an outline based on your research during week one, working on a first draft during week two and perfecting your paper in week three. Overall, it’s helpful to put all assignments, study time, club events and meet-ups with friends onto a paper or digital calendar so nothing slips through the cracks.

…it’s helpful to put all assignments, study time, club events and meet-ups with friends onto a paper or digital calendar

Another tip from Miller is to prep everything you need for each day in advance to minimize your chances of forgetting something or being late to class. For instance, you can keep your supplies for your Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes in one backpack, and your gear for Tuesday-Thursday in another backpack.

Be Strategic About Scheduling Classes

Developing a class schedule that works with your strengths is vital, says Miller. “Schedule classes during your best time of day – mornings if you are an early bird or afternoons if you are a night owl,” she explains. Also, it’s helpful to avoid scheduling too many challenging classes back to back. Ideally, you should build in some time every day to revitalize by taking a walk or eating a snack to help your brain function at its peak.

Try to have something interesting to keep you motivated each day as well, either a favorite class, a social connection or special time for yourself.

Create A Study Routine

What worked for you in high school – like heading to your room and shutting the door when you had a big exam to study for – won’t be as easy on a busy college campus. “Expect distractions and make plans to deal with them in advance,” says Miller. Finding a quiet place to work without distractions on a regular basis can help. For instance, you may discover that Wednesdays at 4:00 p.m. is a quiet time in the student lounge. You can also work out a “quiet time” schedule with your roommate or use noise-cancelling headphones for late-night study sessions.

Stay Connected With Your Professors and College Faculty

Interacting frequently with your professors and meeting with them during their office hours will help you stay more engaged with the class. “Ask your professors to review your work and offer you suggestions on how to strengthen your performance,” says Miller. “Showing your professors you’re invested in the class goes a long way towards earning their respect, which will make you even more interested in the class.”

Build A Support System

Beyond academics, see if there are peer groups for students with ADHD. You should also take advantage of other student services, such as peer tutoring or the writing center as needed. Talk with friends about setting up a study group, which can help you stay focused. “Successful students have developed good strategies and many of them can work for you, too,” says Miller.

Plan Your Self-Advocacy Approach

Contact the office of disability services at your college – during your senior year in high school, if possible – to start the process of qualifying for accommodations based on your particular challenges, says Miller.

Disclosing your ADHD to professors or other students is a personal decision that should be based on weighing the benefits and risks in each situation. Focusing on your strengths and needs, rather than your diagnosis, is always appropriate. “Become a calm, persistent and mature advocate for your own needs,” she adds.

Take Care of Yourself

ADHD management is brain management, says Miller. That’s why in addition to following your doctor’s orders when it comes to keeping up with therapy or prescribed medication, it’s also important to eat high-quality protein foods for meals and snacks. “Protein gives your brain the ingredients it needs to produce neurotransmitters – your brain’s chemical messengers that keep you focused, productive and happy,” she explains.

In addition, daily exercise will help keep your brain sharp and your mood cheerful. “Any activity that is aerobic, requires coordination of mind and body and involves social contact is usually easier to stick with and gives your brain maximum stimulation,” says Miller. Take advantage of the campus fitness center, check out different exercise classes or try joining an intramural sports team.

All college students have to make it a priority to develop their own effective organization habits right from the start, and that’s especially true if you have ADHD. “Your brain feels energized by excitement, novelty, challenges and deadlines,” says Miller. By learning productive ways to add these energizers into your life at college, you can stay on track and succeed.