College Students With ADHD More Likely to Experience Significant Academic Challenges


The findings showed that on average, college students with ADHD received grades that were half a grade level below their peers in all 4 years.

New research from Lehigh University has found that students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face substantial challenges in succeeding and completing their college education. A new paper by George DePaul, professor of school psychology and associate dean for research in Lehigh University’s College of Education, hypothesizes ways academic success can improve.

The paper, called “Academic Trajectories of College Students with and without ADHD: Predictors of Four-Year Outcomes,” highlights one of the largest, most comprehensive investigations of college students with ADHD conducted and is the first to systematically examine the functioning of ADHD students across 4 years of college.

“College students with ADHD are likely to experience significant academic difficulties throughout their college years, are at higher than average risk for dropping out of college and require academic support prior to and throughout their college years,” DuPaul said in a press release.

More than 400 college students were assessed through annual psychological and educational evaluations, half of whom identified with ADHD, including multiple academic outcomes including GPA by semester, progress toward graduation by academic year, self-reported study skills by academic year, and college drop-out status. The study took place over the course of 4 years with student participants from colleges in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

The findings showed that on average, college students with ADHD received grades that were half a grade level below their peers in all 4 years. In addition, the results showed that college students with ADHD were significantly less likely to stay enrolled across semesters.

“It was somewhat surprising to see the magnitude of the academic deficits experienced by college students with ADHD because these were students who had the skills to successfully graduate from high school and matriculate in a four-year college or university,” DuPaul said in the press release. “We expected smaller declines in their educational performance in college.”

There were several variables that helped project academic success for students with ADHD, including having fewer depression symptoms, retaining better executive functioning skills such as planning and time management, and having received educational accommodations in high school and academic support services in college, according to the researchers.

The study authors hope that the findings will spark interest to college disability offices, health care and mental health professionals who work with college-aged students, higher education faculty and administrators, and individuals with ADHD and their families.

“Our findings highlight the importance of providing academic support services for students with ADHD prior to college matriculation, the vital need to improve executive functioning skills in these students, and necessity to screen for and treat depressive symptoms experienced by college students with ADHD,” DuPaul said in the press release.


Researchers find college students with ADHD are likely to experience significant academic challenges. Lehigh University. February 22, 2021. Accessed July 20, 2021.

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