Hi, everyone! Do you want to go to college? Are you in college already? Your choice is valid, whether you choose to go to college or not; some people benefit from it and some don’t. But for those of you who do want to go to college and are worried about it and those of you who are already in college but might be struggling with the stress of it, I’d like to share my experience as a college student with mental illness and how I managed to get my associates degree; it’s also how I’m managing to stay in school even now, working on my bachelor’s degree.
There are multiple methods and resources that I’ve learned about over the years that have helped me make it through college while coping with my own mental health.
One of my biggest assets is accommodations that I got through my disability resource center, which is called “disability services” at some colleges. All colleges in the United States that receive federal funds are required to have disability accommodations for students. This includes (but isn’t limited to) all public colleges and all non-religious-affiliated private colleges in the U.S. Accommodations may include more comfortable chairs for those with back problems or early access to class material. There’s also sometimes accommodations for flexibility with attendance and/or consideration for deadline adjustments for those with a note for a doctor or therapist, although the extent of the deadline/attendance leniency is the professor’s decision, so make sure to ask your professors about it at the beginning of each term. It’s also important to only utilize those two accommodations when you honestly need them, so that you don’t fall behind.
Another accommodation that’s helpful to many people is alternative formats of textbooks. If you buy a hard copy of a textbook and have this accommodation, you can sometimes get a PDF copy of the book through your college’s disability services for no extra cost so that you can make use of a screen reader (a computer program that can read text on your computer screen to you). You can ask your college’s disability services what other accommodations might be helpful for you.
My next tip ties in with accommodations but can also be done independently of them. Being forthright with your professor about when you need help, have a question, need to miss a class, or have to turn in an assignment late may just save your grade. If you need leniency for attendance or deadlines and you have a registered accommodation with the disability resource center, then you won’t even have to give them a reason other than “I have accommodations” (although integrity is important, of course). And even if you don’t have accommodations, telling a professor simply that you’ve been struggling with your health (you don’t even have to specify that it’s your mental health) may convince them to attend to your needs, depending on the professor.
Self-care is the most important thing we need to practice to get through school and to get through life in general really. Seeing a therapist and/or psychiatrist is especially important as they can help guide you through difficult times. There are also a few things I’ve learned that I wouldn’t have been able to get as far as I have without knowing.
“C’s get degrees” is a phrase for a reason. It doesn’t mean that you only have to put in minimal effort to pass, although doing the bare minimum is valid. What I’ve realized is that it’s an important phrase to hold onto for self-compassion and self-care. You don’t have to get perfect grades to pass classes or to get a degree. A degree is valuable no matter what GPA you have, and your mental health is more important than getting a perfect grade. So if you need a break, take it. If you need extra time for an assignment, ask for it. Take care of yourself: you are so important.
Another thing I’ve learned is that you’re not required to go to school full-time. Attending part-time is enough to secure FAFSA support, and employers may not focus on how long it took for you to get a degree. Plenty of people take longer than four years to earn a “4-year degree.” That time frame is just a suggestion, and even people without mental illness usually take longer than that to earn one.
Finally, a couple of times, when I needed to withdraw from one or more of my classes due to life stressors/extenuating circumstances, my school’s dean of student life was able to help me fill out a form to make sure that it didn’t impact my academic progress, which meant I didn’t have to worry about not being eligible for FAFSA for later terms. Deans of student life also often connect people to resources to help them succeed in school so that they don’t end up having to withdraw at all (although needing to withdraw is valid and sometimes unavoidable, and it makes people no less intelligent and no less valuable.)
Thank you for reading this. I hope that what I’ve shared is able to benefit you or someone you know.