Learning & Teaching Seven strategies for an easier start to university life

Learning disabilities, ADHD, care responsibilities, part-time work: How to succeed in a relaxed way despite impairments and disadvantages.

Studies show that students with learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), health problems, employment alongside their studies, or care responsibilities do not graduate at the same rate as their peers. Conscious self-organization and a reflective approach to time and learning preferences can have a positive influence on the transition to university and the studies themselves.

For students with these challenges, it is particularly important to know the academic requirements of the university and to align their learning strategies accordingly. Gaining knowledge about one's learning profile and developing compensatory strategies can compensate for disadvantages in this context. The following strategies can help students with impairments and disadvantages implement a more successful transition to college life.


Strategy 1 - Plan individually from the beginning.

Among the documents that many students do not read until serious complications arise are the study and examination regulations for their degree program. The study regulations state which courses may/must be taken, while the examination regulations state which achievements (assignments, exams, etc.) are required to earn the necessary credits. The info from these documents is important to consciously plan your studies. Which courses can I use to fill modules? Which exam credits match my skills? What topics do I particularly want to get into? In this way, study difficulties caused by formal requirements such as the form of examinations, which are of particular concern to students with impairments and disadvantages, can be identified and addressed in good time.


Strategy 2 - Realistic view of the standard period of study

For many students with impairments and disadvantages, not meeting the standard study time leads to uncertainty and thus additional stress if they primarily orient themselves to more privileged fellow students and bureaucratic norm values. This stress can be reduced if studies are planned realistically and individually. The starting point should be how much time is actually available per week for studying in addition to your job, family and/or other commitments. Helpful information on this is also available from student advisors and on the Internet, e.g. on the real duration of study for various degree programs. Studies should be planned with buffers, e.g. in case of hospitalization or care obligations. It is also often possible to take courses from higher semesters in order to make the best use of one's days blocked off for college. By consciously choosing courses - regardless of the semester for which they are actually scheduled - students can control how many days per week they need to be physically or virtually at the university to study or work without disruption.


Strategy 3 - Adopt an eagle's eye view

Studying takes time, and especially for students with personal and professional commitments, time is precious. Empirical studies on student time management show that students are more successful when they deliberately allocate their learning time to courses in an optimized way. Successful students spend more time on courses that are demanding and in which they consider their own level of knowledge to be too low. They distribute the rest of their time evenly to maximize their overall grade point average. Conscious use of time can minimize the overall time commitment, prevent overload, and avoid stress from missed deadlines.

Strategy 4 - Adjust deadlines early

Almost every course has deadlines, such as for turning in assignments. The easiest way to compensate for disadvantages is to adjust these deadlines for students with impairments and disadvantages. However, students often have inhibitions about asking the instructor to do this or wait until the last minute. Studies show that when teachers are approached in a friendly manner at the beginning of the semester, they are usually cooperative and adjust deadlines in consultation with students to meet their challenges. This not only gives students planning security, but also the instructor.


Strategy 5 - Support through tools and software

Students with impairments and disadvantages face a variety of academic tasks. Because of this, they especially benefit from tools and apps that help them with note-taking, time management, reading, and other study-related factors. Students with work and personal stresses that reduce their time resources can save time, for example, by using dictation and editing features of software and tools. Many Windows softwares have speech recognition, which makes texting easier and faster. Software solutions and tools provide the best support when they fit the individual learning style. For example, students who are better at absorbing auditory information especially benefit from podcasts; whereas visual learning students especially benefit from videos.

Strategy 6 - Artificial intelligence for explanations and summaries.

Another support is text summaries using AI. Summarizing and rephrasing texts that are difficult to understand can help compensate for hurdles. For example, study regulations that are difficult to understand can be converted into easier texts so that it is clear how to achieve the required credits. Using AI, students can have new scientific concepts explained in a variety of ways, saving time spent finding and reading alternative definitions and more understandable texts. AI-produced summaries can also be used for active learning and better understanding, as well as for exam preparation and cross-checking learning.


Strategy 7 - Join networks or start your own.

Students with impairments and disadvantages and students with gainful employment often feel alienated from other students because they have less time for group work and shared leisure activities. This reduced sense of belonging is often accompanied by reduced engagement in studies, which in turn can affect grades. This is where connecting to networks and interest groups can help. Networks, such as those for students with ADHD or refugee experience, can be searched for on the Internet or established by posting a notice yourself. In this way, social integration can be increased and negative life events can be overcome together. A side effect of this is also that students with impairments and disadvantages then feel less distanced, which can simultaneously increase engagement and reduce the likelihood of dropping out.



Impairments and disadvantages mean that not all students have the same opportunities and starting conditions in their higher education. The factors at work are diverse and individual in their manifestations. The strategies described here are intended to highlight ways in which students can succeed in the face of particular challenges. They are merely a selection that attempts to give structure to the variety of challenges. However, they can support in reducing burdens and stressors. Negative learning experiences are reduced in this way in order to be able to shape the studies successfully.