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Online colleges are often regarded as an option solely for returning students. And in many ways, that is correct. A large percentage of my classmates, including myself, are adults who are looking to start or finish a degree many years after graduating from high school. But there is nothing that says only returning adult learners can attend an online college.
When I graduated from high school, I immediately began attending a brick and mortar university. It was an amazing experience, and I would have loved to complete my education there. But things didn’t pan out for me.
I spent high school in somewhat of a haze. I was constantly tired (more than the normal teenage amount) and constantly in pain. Years later I found out I was dealing with narcolepsy and a chronic pain condition. But in high school, I was struggling through each individual day. My condition worsened over the years, and by senior year I was attending class maybe two days a week. I was exhausted. And to top it all off, at the end of my senior year I ended up sustaining not one, but two severe concussions.
Even before the head injuries, my mother (and myself, to be honest) were concerned with my ability to attend university in the fall. But I desperately wanted to. I love learning, and obtaining my BA was the first step in the very extensive plans I had for myself.
I went away to school that fall. And I pushed myself to take an overloaded course load. I pushed myself to add as many honors classes as I could. I pushed myself to attend clubs. I pushed myself to make friends. And I ended up so sick that a doctor from the student health center put me on bedrest for a week.
I still didn’t know what was wrong with me at this point. I didn’t know I was narcoleptic, and that was why I was so tired during the day. I didn’t know that I was suffering from a chronic pain condition that exhausted me very easily; that made it hard to move or even hold a book up to read. I didn’t know I was dealing with post-concussion syndrome, and that was why reading made my head spin and my stomach lurch.
I was finally where I wanted to be. I was taking classes that actually interested me. I was making real friends. I was on my way to that first degree. But my body was working against me. And I suffered greatly.
In high school, the options that were given to us were brick-and-mortar colleges, trade schools, or fast-food service. If you wanted to make anything of yourself you went to college or trade school, or you spent the rest of your life in a dead-end job. I was never interested in a trade, but I wanted to explore my collegiate options. In that category, my options were presented as community college or a larger university. My local community college didn’t offer anything I was interested in. And as a top student, I was expected to go to a “real” university. I was given pamphlets for our state universities and lists of out of state universities my counselor thought I would be interested in. And ultimately, I made the decision to go out of state for school.
I have never felt more at home than I did on that university campus. It was the best place I could have chosen. But it nearly killed me. I spent one semester at that university. And by the end of it, I was so sick that I had to come home. It took me nearly a year to recover. A whole year to recover from four months away from home.
I want to clarify here because when I tell this story people often assume I’m exaggerating. I could barely move without vomiting. I was so exhausted that I was sleeping 22 hours a day. I was in so much pain that when I did move I had to hold in accompanying screams because if I let them out the noise would make my head hurt. I went to doctors’ offices weekly. My primary care physician called my house nightly to check in on me, but I wasn’t the one to talk to her because I couldn’t hold a phone and the noise from talking made me sick. It was a year of questioning if I should be admitted to the hospital, but ultimately not being admitted because no one knew what was wrong with me. And they can’t treat you when they don’t know what’s wrong.
It was a rough year, but eventually, I had the strength to occasionally move to my living room to watch TV. Eventually, the post-concussive syndrome went away. Eventually, I was able to say up for more than two hours a day.
As I got better, I wanted something, anything, to do. I needed to occupy my free time. I took up knitting, I read tons of books, I found movies and TV shows to watch. But I wanted more. I needed something to challenge me.
That’s when I found online colleges. I vaguely knew about them to begin with. Lord knows there are plenty of commercials advertising their existence. But I had never given them any thought.
It turns out online learning is exactly what I needed. Online classes vary in length depending on the school. The school I chose offers eight-week classes. They can be intense, especially the amount of reading that’s expected, but you ultimately go at your own pace. Semesters are not set in stone; classes start every month, so you truly can take classes when the time is right for you. And the professors that I’ve had have attended and taught at top universities.
My issue was never the class load or the intensity, it was the ability to get to class. By taking classes online, I don’t have to go anywhere. I can “go to school” from my bed, or couch, or anywhere else that has an internet connection. Taking two or three classes is enough to comfortably occupy my free time. And I’m finally making progress towards my degree. And comparatively, online classes are priced similarly to community college classes, making it much cheaper than attending a state university.
When I was in high school I desperately wish someone would have told me about online college. I treasure my experience at a true brick-and-mortar university, but it ultimately wasn’t a good option for me. For myself in particular, and for anyone who suffers from chronic illnesses or has disabilities, online classes may be an option that allows them to continue their education without sacrificing their health.
As for now, I’m taking a break from classes. But I’m already planning my next semester. And I’m happy to report that I’ll be completing it from the comfort of my couch.