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ADHD and College and Higher Education

End-of-semester burn what?

Upon the basis of the following scenario, have any of you ever had to make a hard decision like this? What did you do and how did it turn out for you?

This is my first semester back in school as a graduate student and I thought it would go so well until my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a financial crisis unable to pay rent because we did not budget properly for my return to school. I ended up having to drop a class and switch to a permanent part-time student status so that I could take on a full-time job, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because I was offered the highest paying job I’ve ever had in a supervisory role doing something I actually love (and have never been able to find anything quite like this before), after everything that’s happened this semester, I am having trouble motivating myself to want to stay in school. I feel like this grad school thing was a failure and that this program isn’t for me…isn’t the right time in my life, etc…
I’m allowing my ADHD to wash over me and carry me far away from school and all the hardship it caused me this semester.

It’s hard to know when to keep fighting and when to throw in the towel with ADHD…is this something I should fight through because it’s just my inability to want to buckle down and do the boring stuff when there’s so much on my plate? Do I need to simply work up some self-discipline and plow on? Or do I admit defeat and happily take up residence with my new and favorite job and see where that leads? I’m afraid to change paths BECAUSE I know I have ADHD and it is my tendency to skip around, but at the same time, this really doesn’t feel like it’s right. How do I know the difference between when I should muscle on through because I’m just experiencing symptoms versus when I should go with the flow because that might be the better thing? And how do I deal with that knowing that I have ADHD and I didn’t succeed? (Although, in all honesty, I’ll probably be a lot happier not being in school right now if I do drop the program). I know I can always take a break and go back later…but knowing that I might not continue, how do I motivate myself to finish finals? It’s hard enough when I DO plan to stick with something to get motivated towards the end…but what about when I’m not really even going to accomplish what I set out to do?


Often we find we are making decisions based on other’s idea of ‘should.’

If you were to follow the path that really made you fell happy, it would not be selfish, it would be efficient.

Posted by John Tucker, PhD, ACG. ADHD Coach on Dec 06, 2013 at 5:54am

Exactly why are you *in* graduate school in the first place?  Not why does the university want you there, nor are you able to do the work, but how does being there benefit *you*?

What do you want out of life that the letters after your name will give you?  Yes, I will admit using the “Dr.” title when the auto parts stores insist on knowing my name, and (quite irrelevant) advanced degrees are increasingly becoming the prerequisite for entry into a lot of things —but what I see above is:

1:  You have a job in the field you want to be in, at a level (pay/responsibility/etc) higher than you have ever had before.

2:  You have a relationship—boyfriend and the rest—which I presume is healthy, stable, and likely long-term—shared budget and the rest.

3:  You are finding your academics boring and irrelevant—and wonder why you are pursuing them.

Well, why*are* you? 

Your job is probably more relevant than your classes, and this isn’t ADHD but the contrast between the “ivory tower” and the “real world.”  Even if your degree is related to your career field, you still will be finding yourself asking the relevance of it—I am reminded of Rodney Dangerfield in the movie _Back to School_ and the part where he tells the business professor about all the construction expenses he left out, etc.

And if it is a degree in the humanities or something—exactly how will having it benefit you?  You need to answer that.

Is there an “ivory ceiling” in the job/career/profession that you are in (and want to be in)?  Is there a level above the one you currently are at where you would need the grad degree(s) to go?  That’s relevant—although the related question is if your current (or another) employer would pay for your tuition & such (caveat—unlike undergrad tuition, this *is* considered taxable income)—but it is something to think about.

Do you need the degree to prove something to yourself?  (If so, that needs to be your motivation.) 

Rules vary by institution, but almost inevitably there are various forms of “leave of absence” where you stop being a student for a set period of time—a semester, year, two years—the length is often whatever you request and they agree to—and you have the option of either coming back or not at the end.

Not knowing anything more than what you wrote above, this is what I would suggest you looking into.  Secretaries (whatever they are called) often tend to know an awful lot about the technical (and unwritten) rules of an academic institution—and when they don’t, they often know another secretary who does.  As long as you make it clear that you are just asking what the rules are, asking what your options are—essentially that you aren’t going to tell anyone who told you—and if they aren’t in the middle of a half dozen other things at the time and have a chance to talk—many will lay out all kinds of ways in which you can leave school but have the option to come back some time in the future.

The institution, of course, wants you staying there—they want your money.  Higher education is a business like any other—and we are in a recession—and they don’t want to loose paying students.  Do not ever think that the Disability Services office has *your* best interests in mind—they are worried about the best interest of their office (themselves & their jobs) and the best interest of the institution—which may or may not be the same as your best interests.

The absolute last thing the Disability Services folk want (if you are registered with them) is a “good” student dropping out.  If you are registered, you are valuable to them as a statistic—you justify their budget to the admin and serve as a defense against discrimination complaints filed by others.

Imagine two hypothetical situations—both where a female student (or applicant) files a sex discrimination complaint against a hypothetical university—regardless of what her complaint is or how valid it may be, the all-male university is going to have a much harder time defending itself than one whose student body is half female.

No, they don’t want to loose you. 

Graduate student “attrition” makes a lot of people (not just them) look bad—and it is a statistic that various folk (accreditation, etc) closely examine.  Don’t fall into the trap of being in college for the good of the college and not your own good.

So I ask again, exactly why are you pursuing your grad degree in the first place?  You really need to answer that first.

Posted by Pirate on Dec 07, 2013 at 9:45pm

Here is the clip—and worth watching for the contrast between real world and academia:

Posted by Pirate on Dec 07, 2013 at 9:50pm

Thanks Pirate! That was all quite relevant and helpful.

I am getting my Masters in Education. I have my Bachelors in Childhood Ed (NYS certified), I moved my boyfriend and I from Cali back to NY because part of me was homesick and part of me wanted to have all the options that NY provides because I am certified in THEIR state. It was really hard being away from my family in an unfamiliar place. What has been even harder is coming back here and having to fight with people and justify everything I’ve been doing all semester to seemingly EVERYONE! Our home situation has not been great either…we’ve been superfluosly threatened with eviction by our landlord four times in three months and endlessly harrassed by our downstairs neighbors. I’ve been so exhausted until now…all this is just the tip of the ice berg. At one point this semester I just wanted to stay in bed and pray that my building collapse around me and I wouldn’t notice.

I thought I wanted to be a teacher because I love being creative and working with kids. However, I never seem to get the “teacher” jobs I apply for and when I do, they’re never what I hoped for. This new job still involves working with kids, but it puts me on more of a social work track. If I were to stay in the field, I would plan to get my MSW eventually so that I could move up the ladder, make more money, and have more options, which is looking like it may be the better path right now. This job is the only break I’ve had all semester. It felt like one uphill, unending battle until that happened. Now I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel- a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders.

It’s just that, because I uprooted us and moved us back here, I really want to make sure that I “make good” on that move. I think this new job could be that “making good” just as much as finishing my graduate degree would be because it’s an opportunity that never presented itself on the West Coast. I just hope that if I drop this program, I won’t look like a flake or make enemies- but then again, you’re right. I should do it for me, not them or any other external factor. I just HAVE TO FIND A WAY to motivate myself through finals THIS semester so that I don’t end up with a horrific looking transcript just in case I do decide to go back someday.

Also, I know for sure that I am not going back to this program after this year, but I’m still wondering about next semester. I feel like I’m obligated to finish out the year because I did sign up for a year long Assistant-ship and I don’t want to let down the professor I’m paired up with. She’s so sweet and somewhat ADHD herself. We have really bonded over how creative and scatter brained we both are which is so refreshing to find in the field of education otherwise you feel like you’re the only one. I don’t know how understanding she would be if I dropped her mid year because we are working on research together and my name was submitted in her IRB proposal which we wrote and rewrote together at least twice this semester…it was a lot of work, but so was all the craziness in my personal life. So these are the things I’m just not sure about.

Posted by jessiela on Dec 08, 2013 at 6:35pm

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