• Lynn Miner-Rosen

The Struggle is Real: How ADHD Symptoms Get in the Way of Career Planning in College

As a certified career coach and ADHD coach, my college student clients have told me they don’t know how to define which career path to take and how to explore all of the available choices. Unfortunately, they tend to reach out to me after graduation or during their senior year and that may be too late to make the best choices under the best of circumstances. They have often passed up opportunities for part-time, work, internships, career fairs, and on-campus job recruitments.

What I hear most is that parents have invested a lot of money into college and really want their sons or daughters to pass their classes, enjoy their college experiences, meet new friends and learn as much as they can. They have seen their kids struggle through middle school and high school and want them to succeed in college. But, careers are rarely discussed in detail, or it is expected that students will “figure it out” when they are seniors or get direction from the college career office… IF they go to the career office.

The time to think about your future career is NOW. It’s a myth that there are “perfect” jobs for those with ADHD. ADHD does not have to stop anyone from doing what they dream of. There are many ways to explore an ideal and successful career path for college students with ADHD and executive functioning challenges.

Below I will talk about a few ADHD career challenges and ways to help.

Time Blindness

Time blindness is a critical executive function that is common among people with ADHD. It is a distorted perception of time, a failure to view time as linear. It shows up differently for everyone, but for some, it prevents them from realizing that they need to take action today to help avoid decisions that may slow them down in the future. Another way to look at it is that the actions you do today could affect your life in the future.

Some suggestions for students that are challenged by time blindness are to spend as much time as you can to visualize your future. Take the time, starting as a freshman, to think about what your life will look like a year from now, twos years from now, and upon graduation. Create a 4-year calendar and sketch or draw or write out your vision for your next four years in college.

Temporal Discounting (also known as delay discounting, time discounting)

Temporal discounting or delay discounting is the tendency for people to want things now rather than later. In order to delay gratification, the person has to be convinced that the reward in the future is going to be large enough to compensate for going without for now. It can also be explained by impulsivity and a tendency for immediate gratification. In the book, the Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, psychologist Walter Mischel argues that children can be taught to resist temptation - that the ability to delay immediate gratification for the sake of getting something better in the future - is a skill that can be learned.

College students can combat temporal discounting by creating and writing down long-term and short-term goals. These goals should be reviewed often. Creating a dream board is another tool. Gather all the photos (either from magazines or digitally) and organize them on a poster board or large screen. Choose photos that depict your goals and what you want your life to look like. Keep it visible throughout college to keep those rewards in mind!

Information Overload

College students, with or without ADHD, often feel like they “don’t know where to start” or “there is too much information on the internet”. We all know what that is like and choosing a career path may get muddled unless time is set aside to focus on your future.

My advice is to take your career exploration one step at a time. Set aside one hour a week to research different careers, look at the career office website, write down your thoughts and ideas, and consider your future. Consider the alternative, which is not spending any time thinking about a career choice. Time and effort spent considering your future is a beneficial tool that will put you on a career path!

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out on what others are doing is a real challenge for students with ADHD. Try to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else and focus on what is the best path for YOU! Remember that when people are posting on social media, they are posting their best…not their struggles or challenges. Keep focused on the fact that you can do anything you set your mind to do. One of my clients shared with me that she sees posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat and it makes her feel bad. Plan "screen-free" time for yourself by taking a walk, reading, swimming, or just listening to music.

Prejudging career choices

Many college-aged clients have admitted to me that they chose their college major or future career path based on what their parents have told them. A “growing up” indicator is the ability to choose what is best for yourself rather than what your parents think is best for you. Only you can narrow down the choice of careers that are a good fit, and then you will be in a position to discuss them with your parents, advisors, and coach.

There are many strategies to learn about careers:

  1. Keep an open mind. Don’t discount a career by the name of the career.

  2. Know that careers depicted on TV, movies, or Netflix are not always the reality.

  3. While in college, get valuable experience by working, volunteering, or joining clubs. Procure internships (at least one, if not two).

  4. Speak with friends and family and ask questions about their jobs, such as “What is a typical day at work like for you?”, “How did you get into that career?”, “What do you like and dislike about your career?” and “What advice would you give someone like me to get into this field?”

We all want to know what our best career fit is. Start when you are a freshman in college, or before, and think about what careers make you smile, get you excited and match your dreams. Keep records of your interests, skills, and accomplishments. Use your time in college to explore different career options, take classes, get internships, visit the career center often or work with a career coach. Have fun, create friendships, but keep a foot in the door of career choice from day one at college. Remember, #DontWaitUntilYouGraduate!


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