Advice for College Freshman

Since my first semester of college just ended, I thought I would share some of the things I learned. For reference I go to a local community college, I’m a biology major, and I got a 4.0 my first semester:

  1. It’s literally just lecturing most of the time

Maybe this is because I only look core classes my first semester (history 1301, biology 1406, english 1301, and math 1314), but all we ever did was lecture and test. In high school you do a lot of busy work and activities, but there is no free time or “fun” days in college. The only class that broke this rule was my English class, where we did a lot of group discussion.

2. Give yourself time in-between some of your classes

Monday, Wednesday, Friday I had History from 10:00-10:50, and then my next class, Algebra, wasn’t until 12:00-12:50. I used the hour in between them to study and do homework, and it was so helpful! It was a designated hour to just work, and it really helped me stay on top of everything. It can be difficult to work at home, and it’s easy to talk yourself out of staying after class to work, so making your schedule with breaks in between is ideal.

3. Take good notes

This sounds like a no-brainer, but honestly it’s so important. I basically spent the entire semester trying to figure out what note-taking strategy worked best for me. I would recommend doing hand written notes if you’re able to, because I definitely retain more info when I write something verses when I type it. I also really like the strategy of condensing your notes down to key information that you’re still working on learning before a test or major quiz. It’s much more effective to study the most important/most difficult information alone, than it is to study everything your Professor lectured over.

4. Take advantage of your resources

This is something I wish I would have done more of. At my college, we have a writing center, and free math tutors which I never used, but should have. Having free resources is something you will probably never get again after college, so take advantage of them! Also, if you have a disability like me, sign up for disability services. They may not be able to completely accommodate you, depending on your needs, but in my case they were super accommodating and happy to help.

5. Do Practice Quizzes/Tests

Taking practice quizzes and tests online is the main thing I used to study. Just reading and highlighting your notes if often not enough. My biology textbook came with a code for online study materials, which is what I used to practice. I like practice tests because you not only need to know the information for your exams, but you also have to know how to apply it.

 

These were the most important things I took away from my first semester in college, academically speaking. Are you in college? What are your tips for college freshman / college students in general?

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Adapting with Chronic Illness

Sometimes friends and family members will see me and say, “wow you must be feeling better!” What they don’t realize is that some days I’m not doing any better than I was six years ago, I’ve just adapted. In the beginning it was so incredibly tough to even get out of bed. I was a child, and had never truly had to persevere before. At the time, I was trying my absolute hardest to function, but it was all new to me. Now I’ve adapted. I go to school and church with extreme pain and fatigue. I do homework as I run back and forth to the bathroom or grimace in pain. When I’m in a state that I’m able to force myself to function, I seem very “normal.”

This semester I’ve made it to class more than I ever have in the past six years. As of now, I’ve only missed four class periods total, and three of those periods were for doctor’s appointments. Part of this is because I felt decent at the beginning of the year, and so it was fairly easy to make it to class. Now I’m struggling more, but I’m still forcing myself to go to school. Just because I’m able to function, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Yes, some days it is easy, and I feel incredibly lucky to have easy days since so many people do not get them. I used to not get easy days, and it was so incredibly hard. However, some days I’m trying not to pass out in the middle of math class, or holding down vomit in history lecture. My body is still very broken.

I’ve also taught myself how to “pass as abled.” I can put on the makeup and clothes, do my hair, and paint a pleasant expression on my face. Most people aren’t very observant and buy it. By now I should have an Oscar for my performance! However, if you look really close you can see the exhaustion in my eyes and hear the slight pain in my voice slipping through. One thing chronic illness has taught me is to be observant. Things are often not as they seem, and if you really pay attention to people, you can pick up on so much. I’ve learned how to appear fine, but other people have not learned how to see through it.

In many ways, I’m so glad I’ve adapted! I’m able to handle everything chronic illness has thrown at me, and I have strength to continue to fight it. I’ve learned how to be more functional, and now I’m able to continue my education. Sure, I don’t do anything else but go to school, do homework, and recover from it all, but I enjoy succeeding in something. It does make me sad sometimes that this has become my normal. Pretending to be fine, when your body doesn’t work right is exhausting, and can be incredibly lonely. At times, I’ve felt angry that I even had to adapt, that I had to accept this life as “okay.” Chronic Illness is a constant cycle of grief and acceptance, and adaptation is a huge part of that.

 

Being Successful in School while Chronically Ill

School and chronic illness are two things that do not mix well. From the constant absences, and annoyed teachers, to the  piles of make-up work the whole experience can be really difficult, and quite overwhelming. The majority of the time I’ve been chronically ill (roughly 5 1/2 years) I’ve also been in school. Here are some of the things I do to try and be successful in school:

  1. Organize Everything

Having a planner or agenda is important for anyone in school, but is essential for those who are chronically ill. Having to keep up with regular due dates, make-up due dates, and study hall times can be overwhelming. If you have brain fog like I do, it’s also easy to forget things, so writing everything down is important. It also helps you prioritize certain things in your work load.

2. Email Your Teachers

Inevitably some teachers aren’t going to like you if you’re absent all the time. It causes them to have to do more work and they feel like you’re a nuisance. Emailing all of your teachers when your absent helps show initiative and helps you get school work even when you’re not there. I also find that telling them when you’re in the hospital is important so that they know you’re definitely not going to be in class for a few days. Keeping everyone is the loop is the best to make sure you’re not falling too far behind.

3. Push Yourself…

There will be days that are ROUGH. You know you have an exam, a quiz, and a group project presentation that day but your body is rebelling. Sometimes when it feels impossible, you actually can do it. It will suck, it will be painful, but it is possible. You probably won’t have a good day, but you tried as hard as you could.

4. … but not too far

There will also be days that it is impossible. Do not ignore big warning signs from your body just to make it to class for a test. Do not send your body into a huge fit (well a bigger fir than it already is) because of the inner and outer pressure to conform to societies ideas of “successful.” A fulfilling life does not have to include a formal education or a long career. Also missing a few days of school will not keep you from getting the things you want. Will it make it harder? Sure. Will it take longer? Probably. Doing what’s best for your body is the most important thing.

5. Take Advantage of Disability Services

There is no shame in asking for help. Although it will never be an equal playing field between you and your peers due to your chronic illness, disability services can help tremendously. They help especially when it comes to absence policies and dealing with teachers who don’t understand your situation. You have rights and your school cannot infringe upon them just because they want more money from the state. **

 

These are my five tips for being successful in school while chronically ill. Do you have any tips for other students with chronic illness? Let me know!

 

 

** Schools often have a 90% rule where you have to be there 90% of the time and if you aren’t you have to do make-up hours. They want you to be there that much because for every student that makes it to school 90% of the time they get a certain amount of money. Not only is it ableist to force students to stay before and after school if they are absent due to illness, it is also illegal.

 

Older Siblings Leaving for College

I have two siblings, one brother and one sister, both older.

As of recently I have now watched them both leave for college, and have experienced the  being the much dreaded left behind younger sibling. Both experiences felt different for me, but it’s always tough to watch your siblings move on in life without you.

My sister went to college when I was starting eighth grade. Her last two years of high school she took on a lot of responsibilities and was really busy, so I didn’t see her a whole lot. I was also really sick and spent most of my time in my room, so that contributed to the situation as well. My sister and I are polar opposites and butt heads growing up; the five year age gap also didn’t help. When she left I was sad because I knew life would never be the same, but it wasn’t particularly devastating since we didn’t spend much time together anyway. It was hard to watch her move on, but it was more jealousy than grief. Now that she’s gone we have a much closer relationship and communicate with each other more than we ever have.

My older brother left for college mid August and this time things were different. He did two years at community college and lived at home, so we didn’t have the typical send off after high school was over. There were points in the past six months that I didn’t think he’d even try to apply to a university, let alone get in and decide to actually go. When the time came for him to move out it felt surreal. Now I was going to be the only child in my house. I spend the majority of my time alone and now that time will be even longer since he’s not around.

There’s a million selfish reasons why I didn’t want him to leave, but there’s also some concerns fueled by love. He’s a type one diabetic and the thought of him going so low he passes out and no one finding him or him not taking care of himself is nauseating. I may be his younger sister but I want to protect him and make sure he’s safe.

People often think of parents having a hard time when their children go off to college, but siblings can have a hard time too. Living with siblings verses just living with your parents is very different, and is a hard change to make. For me it’s also hard to watch my siblings move on, because I question if I will ever be able to do the things they’ve gotten to do due to my health.

I know so many people (especially people who only have one sibling who’s older) who had a really hard time watching their siblings go to college. It’s definitely a huge change for the whole family, and can be a rough transition. If your older siblings are leaving for college soon or just recently left, know that it will be hard in the begining but after a while a new normal sets in.

 

 

 

Starting School & Declining Health  

This week was my first week of being a full time college student!

I’m taking five class, which translates to 13 hours. Since this is my first semester (besides the one summer class I took) I’m taking the basics: Algebra, Biology and Lab, US History, and English.

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind. My health has been declining some, so I had a doctors visit on Monday after class. ( Warning TMI) She’s putting me on a new medication to hopefully help with a new problem I’ve been having-  passing undigested food in my stool. I really need to go see a gastroenterologist again, but I honestly just don’t want to. I know I probably need to do another colonoscopy/endoscopy and I don’t want to do that. For now I’m going to try the Colestid and see what happens.

Monday traffic at my school was TERRIBLE! I left my house at 9:15 and my class doesn’t start till 10:00, so I thought I had more than enough time. It only takes me 13-15 minutes to get there, so I had thirty minutes to park and find my class. When I got to the parking lot there were at least 150-200 people circling the parking lots looking for a spot. I honestly wasn’t really sure what to do. I circled every parking lot at least three times, and as the clock creeped closer to ten I got really nervous. Professors are understanding when people are late on the first day, but I still didn’t want to make a bad first impression, even if there were circumstances out of my control. Luckily I saw a guy come out of the school and I was able to stalk him and take his spot. That was at 9:55 so I had five minutes to walk tot the other side of the school and find my class. I made it to class on time though, which seemed like a miracle.

The rest of the week I gave myself an hour to get to campus and parking wasn’t really a problem. I had to walk really far, and wait around an hour for class to start, but at least I had a spot. My classes have been good, and overall haven’t given me very much work. I’m sure that will change soon though. Over the weekend I have some work, but since it’s labor day weekend it isn’t anything unmanagable, especially since I have three days to do it.

With my health getting worse, the reality of being in school and being chronically ill really hit me mid week. I’ve done the whole being chronically ill and going to school thing for 5 1/2 years and it’s getting old. I feel like I work so hard and get nothing in return. I’m trying to be positive and go into the new school year optimistically, but when things go south it feels more painful when I’ve been optimistic. Another big change is being around people the majority of the day. Since I’ve spent most of my time alone since becoming sick I’ve developed some social anxiety that makes being in public for extended periods of time emotionally exhausting (not to mention physically exhausting from everything else) and overwhelming.

Even if this is going to be a rough semester like the years before I’m grateful to be in a place at the moment that at least let’s me try to continue my education. Back in May there was no way I’d be able to go to school at all. It’s crazy how much my health can change so quickly. It declines rapidly and improves rapidly, I just never know which one to expect! Are you in school/ working? Do you have any Fall plans?

Let me know!

Lots of Love,

Alyssa

My First College Class Experience

Yesterday, August 10th, was the last day of my first college class!

For reference I took an art appreciation class as a 5 week Summer course.

Many aspects of this class felt a lot like high school. It was a fairly small classroom with around 25 students, and we sat at those typical desks that have the chair attached to the desk. For some reason my teacher didn’t seem to understand the difference between an art class and an art appreciation class. Typically in an art appreciation class you would learn how to analyze art and learn a little bit of the history of different art movements.

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We did the octopus as a quick exercise in class, and although it’s a little messy I’m pretty happy with mine. (two octopus tentacles painted kind of messily in hues of blue)

But did we do that? Haha no. I really shouldn’t complain because I got three hours for doing very little work, but at times it was frustrating. The majority of the class we painted. We painted a seed pod, an octopus, a collage we made out of magazine clippings, and the final painting was a group project where we each painted a piece of a collage. The other project we had was making a sculpture out of polymer clay and a plastic animal. We also had to visit an art gallery and an art museum.

As for my professor, there’s one thing I can say that I think explains his overall demeanor and teaching style pretty well. Last week we watched a documentary about yarn, riveting right? I always arrive to class about ten minutes early since I have a perpetual fear of being late. Since I was there early he was still setting things up. I’m not sure if he realized this or not but he was projecting his computer screen onto the wall. I was looking around the room when I noticed he was googling, “What is the definition of a medium in art?” It took every once of self-control I have to not audibly laugh. He never lectured or really gave directions, and all he would do is show us pictures of things and tell us to paint them. I kept waiting for the “lesson day” but  it never came. I didn’t really learn anything (expect that painting is really hard), but I also didn’t have to do much work so I’ll count it as a win.

I’m super proud of myself because I made it to every single class. 4 days a week for 5 weeks, 20 classes total. To a healthy person this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I haven’t been able to go even a whole week straight to class in five years. Of course it helped that it was only a few hours a day and I had no other commitments, but I would have never imagined even five months ago that I would be able to do this.

Things with chronic illness can change in the blink of an eye. I’ve been out of a flare for a while now, so realistically I know one is going to rear its ugly head soon, but being able to succeed in this class gives me hope for the Fall. I’m looking forward to being in school full time again.

It won’t always be this easy, but having something productive to do feels fulfilling!

Living in the Moment

Living in the moment is something I often have trouble with.

Life these past five years has not gone as I planned by any means. I feel like I’m always looking to the future when “I feel better” or “feel happier” thinking life will better then. Instead of trying to enjoy this chapter in my life, I’m always looking ahead.

I started college this summer at my local community college, and it’s been hard to enjoy it. I can’t help but think about how I “should have” graduated high school and “should have” gone to a four year university right away. Those things just aren’t going to happen for me, and I know I need to get over it. I’m guilty of judging people who’ve gone to community college in the past. Always assuming they screwed around in high school and so they couldn’t go anywhere else. Now looking back I realize how prejudiced and rude that was, but I still push those stereotypes on myself.

I’m grateful that my health is in a place that let’s me be able to start college full time in the fall. I should enjoy this time I have feeling well, since I never know when I’ll flare again. Honestly I’m afraid of my next flare. As the fall school year becomes closer and closer, I’m scared I’ll flare right when classes start. I really want to go to school full time this year, and I want to be successful. Instead of enjoying feeling well, I’m often worried and thinking about all of that what-ifs.

Sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and remind myself of all the wonderful things in my life. Sure, there’s gapping holes that I’ve desperately wanted to fill for years, but I have so many amazing things in my life going on too. Even in these times when I’m feeling better I can’t help but feel the exhaustion of my past. I’m only seventeen, but living seventeen more years sounds horrendous. My life is supposed to be “just beginning,” but it already feels so long.

I want to live in the moment.  I want to enjoy the now.

It’s just a lot harder than I expected it to be.