College!

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.

However…

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.

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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 =)

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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!

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It’s that time of year again…

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I am that kid.

Oh September, September, how I love you.

School has always been my favorite. “School” was my favorite game to play as a kiddo, and when I actually got to go, I would cry when it was time to go home.

Annoying, I know.

What can I say? Learning is fun.

However, somewhere in the middle of me enjoying all that knowledge-absorption, the fun of school was interrupted…

BY CHRONIC ILLNESS!

Dun, dun, dunnnnnnnnn…

Yep.

I learned to crochet in 4th grade because I missed so much school I had become a barnacle on my step-grandmother’s couch (See the Crafty Chronic (1), August 4).

I have a vivid memory of a day in 6th grade when our assigned seats were being rearranged. A stinky boy was assigned to sit next to me and he groaned (don’t you just love adolescence?). In a show of solidarity, his jerk-face friend said really loudly, “Don’t worry man, she’s never here.”

Then in 8th grade I started fainting and barely went back after Christmas break.

High school wasn’t much better. You have to have an actual diagnosis in order to get accommodations, and “rare fainting disorder” doesn’t count. I had a doctor’s note that said I could drink water and eat pretzels in class and go to the bathroom as often as I needed to. But I went to Catholic school. You try getting a bathroom pass in one of those, even with a doctor’s note. #Strict #What’sTheBigDealSister?

I tried my very best to go about my business as normally as possible. I tried really hard to make high school as fun as possible. It’s a weird quirk in the universe that most people who end up with chronic illness are type-A personalities, over-achievers, perfectionists, etc. I wouldn’t want to not fit the stereotype…

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Can’t you tell? “Overachiever” practically oozes out my pores.

Editor of the school newspaper, president of the Environmental club (dating myself here to all you youngsters reading this- we couldn’t convince the maintenance director to start recycling. It was too expensive. Yep, waaaay back in the early 2000s, you had to pay the county to come get your recyclables. I know. #Blasphemy. Also we watched An Inconvenient Truth. A lot.), National Honor Society, Best Buddies volunteer…

My high school resume is FANTASTIC, as high school resumes should be. Get out there and have some funsies, Chronics. Personally, I don’t believe high school is the “best years of your life” because if it was um, ew. But I do think it can be a learning time to find out what interests you and what doesn’t, so you can set yourself up to have the “best years of your life” at another time, in another place, preferably with no plaid uniforms involved (just me?).

I can’t speak much for <GettingYourAccommodationsOn> in high school, because like I said, I muddled through without them. I DO NOT RECOMMEND MUDDLING THROUGH. Also, try not to muddle through when it comes to your social life either. Use your <ChronicIllness> words, if you have them. When you muddle through this is what happens:

Socially:

~You faint in the dark room during photography class, and they have to turn the lights on and everyone’s pictures get ruined. As no one knows that you have a medical condition, they will assume you skipped breakfast so you could fit into your homecoming dress and get really mad at you for being so selfish.

~Your friends stop believing you are actually sick after the 33rd time you can’t go to the movies, and think that you don’t like them any more.

~You secretly call your parents from the bathroom at the mall and beg them to come get you early again. When your friends ask why you have to go, you tell them it’s because your parents called you, as you don’t want your friends to think you are ditching them. See above.

Academically:

~Even though you missed the first month of school (I had mono Junior Year-yuck. Do not share drinks with people. Do not kiss people. You will get mono. And die.), teachers assume that you called your classmates for the work and are thus prepared for tests and/or quizzes. In order to arrange make-ups, your mom has to call and yell at people. You still might not get to have make-ups. Good thing you pre-read your Chemistry textbook for fun over summer break.

~The advisor of the National Honor Society might withhold your acceptance for a semester into said society on account of your frequent absences. “Try to show up more, and you are a shoo-in,” is what she will tell you when you flip out on her in the library.

~When your entire body shuts down the second semester of senior year and you have to be homeschooled, your poor, over-worked mother will have to have 99 meetings with teachers, heads of school, academic deans, etc. to get them to let you graduate. Even then, your crazy physics teacher might give you a C even though you did all the work correctly, as she deducted points for “lack of in-class participation.”

So, you know, muddling = bad.

504 plans, accommodations, and partial/complete memorization of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) = good.

Also, I hear that they have online high school now. I would really like to know why that had to wait until now to catch on. Seriously. Gosh.

Despite all that <Hullabaloo> I still managed to learn a lot and have <some> fun in high school. Luckily, bureaucracy never turned off my love of learning.

Don’t let it turn off yours, Chronics.

Being a high school Chronic is the pits. Accept this. It’s not fair, it’s a pain, and it’s not the way it’s *supposed* to be. All of that is true.

However, if I could go back and tell my high school Chronic self anything, it would be to Chill Out.

(Actually, it would be, “Your illness is called POTS and you should really be taking a beta blocker with a bit of midodrine. It’ll perk you right up. Also, don’t share that soda with that guy before junior year. He’s not that cute. And he’s contagious!” #MonoSucks #MakesEverythingWorse)

But really.

If you have the words, use them. As in “Hey <friend>, I’ve got this medical condition called <whatever> and it makes it hard for me to hang out after school. I really like being your friend, and I’m bummed I can’t. Can we do <SomethingYouCanDo> on the weekend? Or maybe just sit together at lunch?”

Use your words with teachers. Have meetings with your principal, dean of students, whomever is in charge. Get doctors notes and official this-and-that’s.

Then take a deep breath and go learn stuff. Learning is magic. It’s fun. It’s the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. You can’t “un-know” stuff (though you may forget just a bit after a while…Quadratic formula? Anyone? Me neither.) Participate to the best of your abilities. It’s totally ok if you can’t do everything.

You are still awesome.

I promise.

To be Chronically fabulous is to be the best kind of fabulous. Don’t you forget it, high schoolers 🙂

 

Holiday!

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Hey there, Chronic Readers!

It’s Labor Day here in the US of A, which is a national holiday.

It also happens to be my sister’s birthday, which is a familial holiday.

Ergo, I am calling in “Well” today so I can go play!

See you guys on Wednesday =)