Last week, Dr. Stixrud talked about the high level of fear and anxiety that may have led college students at Harvard to cheat. Anxiety may also cause college students to have difficulty concentrating and studying. “I think have a ADD,” said the college freshman sitting in my office. “Why do you think that?” I asked. “Well,” he responded, “I can’t concentrate, I am not getting my work done, and my grades are a whole lot worse than in high school.” This is a common exchange that I have with first year college students, who see me because they have found college more difficult than high school and harder than they thought. But for most, there have never been any concerns about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the correct name for what people call ADD. Many of these students are anxious about college and do not always know how to study properly. What they perceive as difficulty concentrating and getting their work done is actually due to this and not to ADHD. Also, this anxiety, combined with the heavy “party” environment now found on most college campuses, can lead to excessive drinking, marijuana use, or both, further eroding the ability to complete work.
Finally, when placed in the dorm environment, many students have difficulty getting enough sleep and so can’t concentrate during the day. Although most of these students do not have ADHD, completing a comprehensive evaluation of cognitive skills, academic skills and emotional functioning can determine the cause of the problem and can lead to appropriate and effective intervention, so that college becomes easier and less stressful. It can also be reassuring for students to learn that they are “OK,” that they are not different from their classmates in what they are experiencing, and that they have many strengths that will help them succeed in college.