Thursday, September 15, 2011

How I Made It through College

Getting through college while ill was tough with the brain fog and trying to keep up. I used quite a few strategies to make things more manageable and those strategies have also helped me in life after college.

Choosing a College
I didn’t go to a highly competitive college and I declined honors courses, despite my qualifications. I chose a college with the least requirements in my weaker areas (no PE requirement, no foreign language, and less science requirements). The college I chose was also small with small class sizes, which made it easier to work with professors and get the help I needed.

Course Load
I had to take four courses a semester in order to maintain full-time status and keep my scholarships and health insurance, but it was less than the standard five. I made up the additional courses during the summer and winter terms. I also took took advantage of the ability to take one general requirement pass/fail a semester so I could literally go to class, do the bare minimum, and not worry about it negatively affecting my GPA. I would recommend part-time to anyone who has the means.

I chose majors I had a natural knack for. I even managed to graduate with a double major by using all my electives towards one of my two major requirements and finding courses that could be used to satisfy multiple requirements. If there was a way to kill two birds with one stone, I found it.

Utilizing Disability Services
Disability services gave me priority registration and the ability to get into the classes that had the best schedules for my needs (no early mornings, for instance). Some of my professors even allowed extensions when I needed them and I was surprised by how those professors really wanted to make sure I succeeded.

Additionally, I registered for five courses and then dropped whichever course I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle (usually the one with the least accommodating professor if there was another one who taught the course). I would get a pretty good feel within the first week and would be able to drop it before it would stay on my record.

Living On Campus
I found living on campus worked best for my particular situation. I have four younger siblings and the youngest was still a toddler when I left for college, so home was not exactly the quietest environment. Living on campus was also very convenient. I didn’t have to worry about whether the fibro fog was too thick to drive, and I didn’t have to waste time commuting. I also admit that wanting to get the full college experience had something to do with it, and I am glad I did it. 

Living at home would probably work better for those who have a home environment conducive to studying, have the ability to get to campus regularly, or can take classes online.
To help me survive living on campus, disability services gave me medical housing. As a freshman, I did not specify what I needed out of medical housing, so I was placed on the first floor with a roommate who also requested medical housing. Although my roommate was great, I knew by the end of the year that a single room would better accommodate my sleeping habits. 
I also learned that the first floor is by far the nosiest. I could hear every conversation outside and I swear the guys above me had both a drum set and a skateboard ramp set up. I definitely recommend bringing ear plugs and a sleep mask for anyone planning to live on campus. 

By junior year I had figured out and gotten into the best room for my situation. I had a single room on the top floor of a building with an elevator in the closest dorm to the academic side of campus. My apartment was right next to the elevator and although I was on the top floor, there were only four floors, so when the fire alarm went off, I only had to go down three flights of stairs. 
Additionally, my apartment was located in the short hall of the building, consisting of only four apartments per floor. The girls I lived with were good about keeping the noise down, so it worked out really well. Noise from rooms below doesn’t seem to travel as well as noise from rooms above, so I didn’t have much trouble with the apartment below.

Adjusting Expectations
It was still tough, and I had to sacrifice most of my social life to get through it. I was only involved with one organization and that is where I made most of my friends, since I had time for little else. Taking it one semester at a time was important, as was trying not to get too stressed out about not being able to do as well as I knew I could. I tried to remember that getting through college with an illness is a huge accomplishment in itself. 
My symptoms were also less severe while I was in school then they are now, so I think that helped a lot too.

Applying these Tips Beyond College
I have found that a lot of the techniques I used to get through college have helped me survive life after college as well. The most important tip for me is taking things one day at a time and trying not to worry too much about not being able to do as well or as much as I used to be capable of.

Other ways I have applied these tips after college are taking advantage of disability accommodations both at work and in other areas of life, including utilizing a handicapped parking placard. I always try to find the most efficient way to get tasks done, so I don’t waste any unnecessary energy.

I also have chosen the places I have lived using the same principles I used in choosing dorm rooms. When I looking for my first apartment I looked for one in a quiet area with the least amount of shared walls possible. When it came to buying a house, we went for the smaller house in the more convenient location, also factoring in the need for a quieter area. As a bonus, a smaller house requires less cleaning. 
Do you have any tips or techniques that helped you get through something?

1 comment:

  1. This was a great article. Like you, I moved into a smaller, one story house when I became disabled. A toilet 12 feet from the bed and the W/D just 5 feet. All the rooms but one have doors leading to the main space (or right next to it), and so it is very convenient. Having an attached garage that's only 10 feet from my bed helps as well. Once in the door after running an errand, I can nearly dive into my bed to relax.