Thriving in College When You Have ADHD – ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association


Surviving your college experience can be tough, but actually thriving in college depends on having a particular mix of personal qualities.

What personal attributes turn surviving into thriving? Here are some of the most important. (By the way, you don’t need to have all six of these qualities to thrive in college and in life, but the more of them you have, the better!)

How many of these success attributes you have made a part of your life?

  • Self-awareness and self-acceptance
  • Proactivity as opposed to reactivity
  • Perseverance
  • Skill in setting short and long-range goals
  • Use of effective support systems
  • Strong emotional coping strategies

Self-awareness and self-acceptance

Individuals who understand their strengths and limitations, who realize that they have many talents, and who do not define themselves in terms of their weaknesses, are more resilient to life’s challenges than those who see themselves as overall failures.


Engaging in a variety of activities and interacting with different types of people encourages individuals to understand the power they have to create their own lives. Proactive (as opposed to reactive) individuals believe in their capacity to achieve. They look for opportunities to grow. They do not blame others for their problems; instead they take responsibility for their own part in their situation and realize they can change their circumstances with their own actions.


Successful people see their setbacks or failures as temporary, not as life-defining. They don’t stop believing in their goals. When they encounter setbacks, they reevaluate, making adjustments if necessary, rather than continuing on a non-productive course of action.

Goal setting

People who are successful have learned how to set long-term goals. They also have developed the capacity to break the long-term goal into bite-size pieces that represent actions they can take to achieve their goal. They are flexible, being open to unexpected opportunities, yet they don’t lose sight of their overall goal.

Use of effective support systems

Both successful and unsuccessful individuals have support systems; however, the successful individuals learn to set realistic, achievable goals. They learn to seek support when they need it, rather than waiting passively for help to be offered.

Strong emotional coping strategies

Those who develop ways to reduce stress, feelings of failure, isolation, and the desire to quit, find the internal resources to persist until they succeed.  Successful individuals have learned to identify situations that can trigger negative reactions, they can monitor their internal reactions to sense when negative reactions are present, and they have a set of strategies to reduce these negative reactions so they can keep on track.


Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET is a board certified educational therapist and ADHD coach who has been educating and coaching adults and young people who have ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges, and other complex needs for more than twenty-five years.  She holds a PhD in educational psychology and mathematical statistics, an MEd in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a BS in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders. Dr. Miller provides support across the lifespan – to school-aged students with learning and attention challenges, to young adults in transition to college or the workplace, and to women with ADHD who have passionate dreams, but are frustrated by procrastination, lack of focus and difficulty following through.

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