Truth time, Chronics: Talking about college makes me sad.

Why, you ask?

Because to a nerdy-bird like me, who loves learning and had been planning her college experience long before junior/senior year of high school rolled around, the fact that Chronic Illness kept me from the experience I wanted to have was really devastating.

Sometimes chronic illness does that.


I do have college experience. A LOT of college experience, actually. It’s been 7 years, and I’m still not done.

So, instead of crying a river about how I never got to go to an orientation (skipped those!) or live in a dorm (apparently not all it’s cracked up to be), I’ve decided that I’ll tell you all the different ways there are to go to college now. There are a bunch, and as a baby Chronic, I would have really loved it if someone had told me that half these things were out there. Traditional only works for some people. I am not that person. Perhaps you are not that person, either.


Ok, College:

Online Classes

I happen to have been born at a really weird time, in which I came of age as the Internet exploded into the beautiful, messy, super helpful thing-a-ma-bob it is today. When I started my college classes in 2007, the advisor at my community college told me about a magical new program they were trying out where they used the power of the Internet to hold class. As I was not in a place to actually get to class at that time, this was perfect. I earned my entire Associate’s Degree, save 2 classes, online. Thank you, Al Gore (or whomever) for inventing the Internet!

Now, it has come to my attention that this whole online classes thing has caught on. High school, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees can all be legitimately earned online (I even saw a TV commercial recently for a K-8 school, so there’s that, too!). Schools that don’t have complete online degree programs often offer some courses online, especially during the summer. Another option is the “blended” class, where most of the class is online with a few in-person meetings.

Some programs that use online or mostly online classes that I think look really promising: the University of Arizona, the Harvard Extension School, and Southern New Hampshire University. These offer the most diverse degree options.

Community College

Community College, Commuter College, Junior College, whatever you want to call it, I’m really glad it exists. CC has been making quite the comeback ever since the recession, and many schools have partner programs with their affiliated state universities, so make sure to look into that, preferably before you start (oftentimes you have to sign up for special programs in advance).

What “College” in general doesn’t advertise is that the first 2 years, everybody, everywhere, has to take a certain number of “general education” or “CORE” courses. Just because you’re a big kid in college now does not mean you get to avoid another year of British Literature or General Math Topics. You have to go. They might be fancier at Harvard, but chances are, these classes will be taught by a Teaching Assistant, giant lecture room style, with very little personal attention. You can save yourself (or your parents) a bunch of cash by getting these done at community college. 95% of the time, the courses will transfer, and you may even qualify for transfer scholarships once you graduate and want to move on to complete a Bachelor’s degree program.

If a Bachelor’s degree isn’t your thing (for <whatever> reason), there are a number of things that you can do with an Associate’s Degree. Google it, because I don’t have space here to list them all.

If you get invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, do it. This is the honor society of community colleges, and it is a BIG deal. BIG as in it can help you qualify for scholarships, looks good on a resume and might even save you money on your car insurance if you happen to have Geico.

Nic Note: Transferring is a wonderful option and 99% of colleges accept a small number of transfer students each year. The 1% that doesn’t? Yeah, that’d be Princeton. If you want to be a Tiger, might I suggest Auburn University in Alabama? Sure, Einstein never taught there, but I hear it is lovely…

State University

BIG. That is the word that comes to mind when I think of state universities. This is very appealing to some people. Personally, I didn’t mind being lost in the crowd during my time at my state school, as I have this thing about wanting to be invisible when my illness is deciding not to be. As in, on those days where I had involuntary muscle twitching, I was super grateful to be able to hunker down in the back of the lecture hall and not have to deal with being called on. The dark side of the moon here, though, is that sometimes you might feel pretty good and want to get called on, in which case it might be a bit challenging as there are 300 people in a lecture hall designed for 250. At least at my state school, over-crowding was a serious problem.

State universities do have the wonderful bonus of having Disability Support Service offices, with more than one person working there (Private schools tend to have a “support person” as opposed to a whole division, FYI). It seems that state schools have a lot of experience accommodating different situations, so it won’t be difficult to work out, at least once you have the attention of an actual human and not a computerized voice on the phone.

There are ways to make state schools “smaller,” if you will, by finding a major you really like and connecting with your professors and teaching assistants, and participating in clubs, etc. As a Chronic, I found participating to that level difficult. I have known other Chronics who haven’t had that problem. It depends on you and your situation, I guess.

The best thing about state universities: 9 million majors to choose from. Really. I don’t know about you, but I had never heard the word “Kinesiology” until I went to state school. It seems like a pretty cool thing to study, especially if you get to take “Bowling” (one of many activities listed in my state school’s course catalogue) for credit!

Private Universities

Full disclosure: I have only been a private university student for about 10 minutes. 5 minutes at one school in 2007, 5 minutes at another in 2010.

My original intention had been to go to a private university, but then my health crashed (and when I say crashed, I mean it was thrown off a pier with its feet encased in cement). Hence, above referenced devastation.

We set everything up so I could go, but when it came down to it, if you can’t get out of bed and walk to the bathroom by yourself without fainting, you are not ready to go away to college. So, yeah, 2007, you weren’t gonna happen.

In 2010, I thought that by sheer will I could force myself to be able to go to school. Which also doesn’t work, <JustSoYouKnow>

Many schools have refund policies. If you are not medically managed but stubbornly insist upon signing up anyway, the way that I did (so.many.times. #SorryMom), make sure you know what those policies are.

Anyway, private universities, that’s what I was talking about…

Lovely. Picturesque. Individualized attention. Sigh…

Many Chronics I’ve talked to prefer this option. There is more personalization available here, and that can be really good for some people. If the school is organized and on-top of things, it will be more than happy to help you find accommodations to suit your needs.

If it isn’t…well then you’ll be like me, standing in an auditorium on move-in day, trying to convince an RA that I do go here, even though my name isn’t on the list. Then you will walk all over campus in 95*F heat trying to find the official person who has your keys, and the list with your name on it. Then you might burst into tears when it turns out they didn’t do your schedule right and have decided not to accommodate your accommodations (which they have more freedom to do, as they are not publicly funded) but didn’t tell you that before you bought shower shoes and extra-long twin sheets, loaded up your car, and drove 2 ½ hours to get there. After all that you might think, “What the hell was I thinking, why is this so freaking hard?”, continue crying in the parking lot for an hour, and finally decide to leave. Hence my second round of 5 minutes.

Results not typical. Apparently I am a “special case” in all facets of life.

…I realize that’s perhaps not the best note to end on…

College is great! College is fun! Go to College in the best way for you, Chronics!

And really, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, (and try some more) again!

You know I have =)



Preach, Mr. Gosling.

Nic Note: Silly me! I write this whole post and go way over my usual post word count, and I didn’t even mention a super important (and really obvious) thing:

Non-Traditional Student Programs

Some schools have these, also referred to as Adult Education programs or Continuing Education programs. These tend to be more flexible, as they were designed for working adults, and since having a chronic illness is kind of like having a job (that you don’t like and never applied for…) they work out really well for us, Chronics!

A particular favorite of mine is offered by the Seven Sisters network of schools. Called the Little Ivies or the Lady Ivies, the Seven Sisters consist of the seven all women schools that were counter parts to the formerly all male Ivy League schools. Currently, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoake, Smith, and Wellesley have programs where women over the age of 24 who have not finished their education or had it interrupted in some way can get their degree. Each program is slightly different, but usually you can take the same courses you would as a traditional student, and some even offer special housing on campus.

Co-ed options include Penn’s Continuing Education programs and the Harvard Extension School, however they do not have housing.

I definitely recommend giving these programs a look!


6 thoughts on “College!

  1. Naturally Ashlie says:

    Love this! I am an education junkie and being chronically ill, having to rsvp to daily classes where my mind has to be present as well as my body just isn’t an option right now. I can totally relate to the idea of signing up and powering through, but in the past it just hadn’t panned out, other than when I went for exercise science and personal training in the beginning of my illness and I still marvel at how that ever was possible. I have every intention of finishing my last year of my bachelors, but for right now, I am completely in love with natural healing (perhaps in part to find natural ways to live with POTS where there aren’t a lot of natural alternatives to the rx meds or maybe it’s because if I can’t “fix” me, I want to help other people) so I just started another program.
    I hope your journey is full of discovery, joy, and passion!

    • iamchronicallywell says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Ashlie! Something I didn’t really have a chance to touch on (yet!) is that sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we expect, and it’s perfectly fine to start following an alternate path at any time. I’m so glad that you’ve found something that you love so much! Natural healing has always fascinated me as well. I applaud you for finding a way to turn your journey into a way to help others!

  2. Beneath the Smiles says:

    What a lot of insight you have into this! Was really interesting for me to read, as im struggling to imagine how i will manage university AND POTS. I think the systems a bit different over here though. Did you find it hard to study over the internet? Ive done correspondence courses before due to my health, but always found it hard to get motivated by myself at home!

    • iamchronicallywell says:

      Hello! It can be challenging to get motivated at home when taking online or correspondence courses. For me, I really tried to find courses that were interesting so that I would be excited to do the work. There were times, however, when I didn’t feel well, I was too tired, etc. and that’s when the flexibility of this type of course came in handy. Tuesday just not working for you? As long as there’s nothing due on Wednesday, no problem, Tuesday can be nap day!
      In general, whenever I take any kind of course, I tend to go a pinch overboard on supplies- pretty notebooks, fancy pens, etc., as it is more fun to do “work” when you have special things just for that.
      I wish you the best of luck at University!

      • Beneath the Smiles says:

        Thats true, if its something i am interested in its not so hard. I found that I would be having nap days every day lol. eek Hopefully pots will get better soon, and i will be able to manage like a normal person!

      • iamchronicallywell says:

        There is a lot of trial and error with POTS. It can take a while to figure out how best to manage, well, everything. It took me 12 years to get to the point where I feel like I *maybe* understand what’s going on inside me and can *possibly* anticipate how my symptoms might act. Hang in there, friend! It does get better-ish eventually, I promise ❤

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