To Work or to College? - The Big Decision after High School
Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
So much emphasis is placed on going to college after high
school that many students with ADHD feel that there
is only one good choice - going to college - whether they
want to or not. And many students with ADHD who go to
college reluctantly, without any sense of direction or motivation
to study, drop out of college a semester or two later, feeling
even more like a failure.
Have frank discussions with your parents about college.
College may sound like fun, but it's also hard work. What's
more, college is a big expense, either for your parents now,
or for you, later, if you are depending upon student loans
to pay college expenses.
If you have doubts about whether you're ready for college,
talk frankly with your parents about your feelings.
Myths about College for Students with ADHD
Many parents worry that if you don't go to college immediately
after high school that you'll never go.
Parents also worry that without a college education
that you'll never earn enough money to live a comfortable
Many years of work with adults with ADHD have led
me to believe that neither fear is based on fact. The truth
is that many high school students with ADHD are not
ready to leave home at age 18, or don't have the determination
or self-discipline to earn good grades in college. What's
more, many students with ADHD are not well-suited to
the academic environment.
You don't have to make an "all or nothing" choice
If you're not sure about college, you don't have to give
up on college plans completely. You have several options to
Community College - Consider enrolling in your
local community college. The cost of community college
is much less than at a four-year college or university.
If you succeed at community college you can transfer to
a four-year school and earn credit for the courses you've
taken at the community college.
Enroll as a "non-matriculating" student
in a four-year school. Many students aren't aware
that you can enroll in a four-year college or university
as a "non matriculating student." That means
that you haven't applied to the school, but are simply
taking courses there. Anyone can do this, even if their
high school grades are too low to be accepted as a degree-seeking
student. The secret advantage to this approach is that
if you do well in the classes that you take the college
is very likely to accept you and give you credit for those
classes if you apply to the school as a degree-seeking
Create your own "work-study" program
- Another good option is to think about working part-time
while going to school part-time. This is a good option
for high school grads who are "tired of school"
but don't want to give up on the possibility of college.
Pursue your interests through other training or work
experience - Yet another option is to get training
and/or job experience in an area that interests you. Instead
of taking just any job, think carefully about what sorts
of jobs would let you develop a skill that interests you.
Then think about what kind of training or experience would
allow you to get an entry level job in that field. Many
young adults with ADHD who work at a job that interests
them find that they're motivated to go to college later
because they now have a specific goal in mind.
No decision is forever.
You and your parents should keep in mind that no decision
that you make when you're 18 is a "forever" decision.
It's always possible to return to school, to get other sorts
of training, or to change careers.
Give yourself time to grow up.
Life isn't a race to the finish line. People with ADHD
often mature more slowly than young adults without ADHD.
You'll only experience more frustration and feelings of failure
if you try to force yourself to keep up with your peers when
you know you're not ready.
Make ADD-friendly decisions that will help ensure a successful
Pay attention to your feelings - don't try to
force yourself to do something that your heart isn't into
- that's a recipe for failure.
Follow your interests - the more you are interested
in your studies or your job, the more likely you are to
Take time to get to know yourself - try different
things, take career interest tests, think of this as a
time in your life for new experiences - travel, work experiences,
and pursuing hobbies that may develop into a career.