College Readiness and AD/HD: Executive Function Skills

This post is one in a series examining several facets of college readiness. According to Landmark College (, important readiness factors include: academic skills, self-understanding, self-advocacy, executive function skills, including time management and organization, and motivation and confidence. This post is looking at the subject of executive function skills, including time management and organization.

“Executive Function” is a term used to describe the “command and control” functions in the brain, a group of mental tasks or functions that help us with integrated, purposeful activity. “Executive Functions” in the brain can be understood by the metaphor of a CEO in a large business or a “conductor” in an orchestra – they provide necessary functions to make all the parts work smoothly and successfully together.

Among the executive functions important to college success include the ability:

-to initiate tasks and activities,
-to plan for the present and future,
-to organize one’s time and materials,
-to monitor one’s own performance and make adjustments as needed
-to stop one’s behavior at the appropriate time (the opposite of impulsivity!)
-to juggle competing demands

Additional, less obvious executive functions include “working memory,” or the capacity to hold information in mind long enough to make use of it and “shift,” or the ability to think flexibly. (For more information on “executive functioning” see the resource list at the end of this post.)

How do I know if my executive function skills and strategies will support success in college?

Some questions to consider in-terms of college readiness and executive functioning skills include:

1. Do I use a planner? How comfortable am I with using it?

Here’s an article that provides an overview of “How to Use an Academic Planner and Get Results

2. How good am I at organizing my time and prioritizing?

Plan to plan! Setting aside some time weekly to plan ahead and some time each day to prioritize among tasks can be very helpful.

3. Do I have experience planning ahead for major projects? How good am I at that?

One approach to project planning is outlined here:

4. How successful am I with keeping myself on task when studying or writing?

Some students set a timer on their cell phone to ring at 5 – 10 minute intervals and check in with themselves when it rings: “Am I on task?” Planning a stretch or movement break every 20-30 minutes can also help with focus.

5. How well do I keep track of materials: My planner? My school materials? My keys?

A designated place to keep each important item, such as a spot near the door to keep keys and planner, and clear routines can help with this issue.

6. How successful am I at getting up in the morning?

Your parents won’t follow you to college to drag you out of bed for class! The following article offers tips for getting yourself up, as well as suggestions for many other executive functioning issues that plague college students with AD/HD:

“Tips for College Students with AD/HD”

AD/HD Coaching can help!

Students who struggle with executive functioning skills may find the demands of college work and college life particularly challenging. Working with an AD/HD coach can help college students to identify and implement strategies that work. Research (see research studies here ) is beginning to demonstrate that AD/HD coaching supports improved success during the transition to college.

If you are interested in working with a coach on developing strategies to address any aspects of executive function, or other aspects of college readiness or AD/HD management, I’d be happy to talk to you! Please check my website at or contact me at

For more information about “executive functioning,” see the following resources:

Executive function fact sheet:

Article by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel:

Article by Keith Low:

A subsequent blog post will address the final key areas of college readiness with tips for success. Check back! Or email me at to get my newsletter.

Posted in college, college readiness, executive function

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