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3 Simple Strategies to Improve Executive Functioning in College Students


As you transition into young adulthood, you begin to experience what it takes to care for yourself. In college, this means getting yourself up on time, finishing projects, or making sure you study. For those who struggle with executive functioning, excelling in college is more difficult.

However, there are ways to improve your executive function. Getting help from a trusted provider is always a great option. However, there are simple solutions that can help you to be more on top of your schedule, find support, and improve habits that will help you do well in school. While it may be a challenge, you can learn how to better manage your time and energy.

Executive Functioning

The term executive functioning refers to cognitive abilities that enable and drive goal-oriented behaviors. This includes thinking and adapting to new situations, self-monitoring, and planning. In college, these are all very important skills.

There are multiple parts of executive functioning. These include working memory, inhibition, and fluency. Working memory allows you to temporarily store and process information, such as remembering a phone number so you can call it back. Inhibition helps you to hold back and adjust how you react to different things. Fluency represents the ability to create multiple ideas in a small period. Imagine a test where you have to think of as many dog breeds as possible in a set period.

Lack of Executive Functioning in College Students

There are many reasons why you may struggle with executive functioning, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism. Regardless of the reason, feeling frustrated is normal when you are a college student struggling with executive functioning. Struggling with executive functioning during college can look like having a hard time managing your time, paying attention, and completing tasks.

According to researchers, good executive functioning skills in adolescents improve learning, which helps with success in college courses. Therefore, improving your executive function skills will decrease your frustration and help you to thrive while in college.

3 Simple Solutions to Improve Executive Functioning

If executive functioning is something you are struggling with, that is ok. You can improve it, and there are three simple solutions that you can work on in college. Remember, learning new skills takes time. As you work on your executive functions, it can help you to be patient and kind to yourself. You can improve with time.

Make an Effective Schedule

While you likely had a schedule in high school, in college you are solely responsible for your schedule. Making an effective schedule will help you to improve your executive functioning, as it helps you to stay on track. An effective schedule is one where you include everything that you need to attend to and complete, but that includes some amount of flexibility. This means that you will include classes, work, and social events. However, it also needs to include blocks of time for studying.

Having flexibility in your schedule means adjusting it regularly. Let's say you set up your schedule on Sunday, however, on Wednesday you realize you forgot something. That is ok. An effective schedule needs some wiggle room for such an occasion. In this instance, you would look through the rest of the week and adjust as needed to complete everything you need to get done.

Get Support

Support is incredibly helpful when looking to improve executive functioning. This could mean working with an educational coach or therapist, or getting support from a loved one. Regardless of what type of support works for you, getting help can improve your executive functioning and help you learn new skills.

Getting support can be challenging. It can help to remember that you are in a transition in your life. Getting help now does not mean you will need help forever. However, with support, you can learn new skills and be held accountable for making changes that help you thrive in college.

Improve Your Study Routine

A good study routine is very important in college. While each class is different, you will need to carve out time in your schedule to study. Every student's study routine will look different. Variables like what time you have available to study and how much study time you need will provide some insight into a good study routine for you.

However, it also means exploring what type of routine is helpful for you. This means figuring out what time of day or size of time blocks work for you to study in. You will likely have to do some experimenting to figure out what is ideal.

Once you know what is helpful for you, you can work on making your routine a habit. Every week that you are consistent with your study routine will make it more and more normal for you to study regularly. At this point, it is part of your life that doesn't feel as hard to accomplish. Remember, forming new habits and improving executive function takes time. If you are just starting out, it is ok if you are not 100% consistent.

Impairment or lack of executive functioning can make necessary tasks in college feel impossible. Handling your own schedule, managing your studying, and keeping yourself on track are difficult. However, you can learn how to improve these skills. One of the best things you can do is to find support that helps you. At Northwest College Support, we work with college students to improve the skills needed to thrive in college and beyond. If you or your child is in need of support, either virtually or in person, we can help. Call us today at (877) 485-2776 to learn more about the programs we offer and how we can help you.

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