Applying to College When You
By Jean Oviatt
Originally published in Youth Allied By CFIDS,
I recently completed the complex college
admissions process, which can become even more complex if you have CFIDS. I'd
like to give anyone who is beginning (or thinking of beginning) to apply to
colleges some advice on how to do so.
Let me start out by saying that you
will get through the process, even though it might not seem like it now.
I'm planning to attend Bates College in Lewiston, Maine full time this
Choosing Where to Apply
addition to considering the usual things, such as programs and academics, when
looking at colleges, persons with CFIDS (PWCs) will want to consider some other
characteristics, like the distance from home, the physical size and layout of
the school, the climate of the area, the campus topography (i.e., are there a
lot of hills?), the health facilities and the accommodations the school makes
for people with disabilities. For example, I ruled out one Vermont college after
I took their campus tour because it was very hilly and in winter those hills
would be ice-covered. Also, my interviewer basically told me that the campus
really wasn't handicapped accessible and that they wouldn't do much to help me.
You should visit the schools to which you
plan to apply. It might be tiring, but it's very important - you will be
spending a long time and a lot of money there.
Also, if you can, take a campus tour. It
will give you a much better idea of the number of hills and stairs and of the
distance between the buildings. You might request an abbreviated tour if there
aren't many other people, or leave the tour early. See only what you want to (a
dorm room, the library, etc.); don't bother with the athletic facilities,
they're usually far away and most of us aren't able to participate in athletics.
If you visit at a less busy time, you might get a private tour. I visited one
college on the 5th of July and we got a private tour, just my family and the
tour guide. I think I got a better feel for the school because of this - it felt
also try to have an on-campus interview, preferably when you are there for the
tour. I did all of my college visits and interviews the summer before my senior
year. The summer wasn't much fun, but it made the next school year much less
hectic. It might be a good idea for you to request that your interview be with
an admissions officer. I didn't do this, but in several cases I wish I had. I
had several student interviews and they didn't go very well. I think students
are less likely than adults to understand CFIDS; my interviewers just didn't
seem to get it. I did have a good student interview at Clark University because
my interviewer's roommate had CFIDS, so he knew all about it. Clark, in
Worcester, Massachusetts, is very good about CFIDS; there are several students
with CFIDS there and several PWCs got in this year.
I felt that I had to tell the schools I was
applying to about my having CFIDS; it explained my unusual high school class
load and lack of extracurricular activities. You may decide differently; it's
really a personal choice. If you decide to tell them, the best time to bring it
up is in your interview. I found it easiest to bring it up when they asked about
extracurricular activities or at the end when they asked if I had anything else
to say. I usually said something like, "Have you ever heard of chronic fatigue
syndrome? Well, I have it." Then I would explain it and/or tell them my story.
My guidance counselor gave me some good advice; she said not to walk in and say
"Hi, I have CFIDS." It's best to let the interviewer get to know you as a person
I asked all of my interviewers what they
thought could be done to help accommodate me if I went to their school. After
explaining what type of help I might need and telling them what my high school
had done, I got pretty informative answers from them. In general, most of my
adult interviewers responded well when I told them about my CFIDS. Some even saw
it as a strong point of my personality that I was able to deal with this
illness. You might even want to discuss how you think you have grown as a person
by dealing with CFIDS..
I brought a pocket-sized notebook to each
of my interviews. It helps to write down any questions you have ahead of time so
you can remember to ask them, even when you're nervous, and to write down things
about the school that you want to remember.
Applying to Schools
best advice I can give you about applying to colleges is to give yourself plenty
of time and to be organized. If you wait until the deadlines or don't even know
when they are (unfortunately, not all schools have the same deadlines), you're
going to cause yourself additional stress which could make your health decline.
If you can, apply for Early Decision (you apply to one school and promise to go
there if you get in - many schools have this option), Early Action (you apply to
one school, but it is not binding if you get in - mostly found at Ivy League or
state universities) or Rolling Admissions (you apply at any point up to the
deadline and find out as soon as they decide whether you got in - mostly larger
state schools do this).
I applied to Bates for Early Decision and
was deferred, so I had to apply to other schools in a short amount of time. I
used the Common Application and strongly recommend it. At least 40 different
schools accept this application, and it is equivalent to a school's own
application. If you use the Common Application, be careful about finding out and
meeting deadlines; many schools have different deadlines for the submission of
different applications and financial aid materials.
Whichever application you use, make a
photocopy of the blank form and use it as a rough draft. I gave my completed
copy to my dad, who typed it for me. (It helps a lot if you can get someone else
to do the typing - you usually have to use a typewriter to fill out the forms.)
The Essay: If you decide to
tell colleges about having CFIDS, it makes a good essay topic. Try to focus on
your personal experience and don't make your essay too clinical or preachy. If
you plan to tell the schools that you have CFIDS but decide not to write your
essay about it, make it very clear on your application that you have this
illness and that it is why you didn't play three varsity sports or belong to six
clubs in high school. However you do it, make it very clear to the schools that
CFIDS is the reason behind your unusual high school record.
Recommendations: Get your
written recommendations from people who know and understand your situation.
Everyone writing recommendations for me understood CFIDS and its effect on my
education. Most colleges want teacher recommendations. I was lucky that I was
able to attend most of high school and had teachers who would write them for me.
If you have tutors, are home schooled or use a correspondence school, ask your
tutors or teachers that you had before you became ill to write recommendations.
You might wish to ask admissions officers at the schools to which you are
applying what they suggest you do about recommendations.
I had my doctor write a brief explanation
of CFIDS which I included with my applications, and I also sent several schools
a research paper about CFIDS which I had written. It explained the illness and
was a sample of my writing. You may want to send something explaining CFIDS
(either that you've written or that you have obtained elsewhere). (The CFIDS
Association of America has many pamphlets, articles and books which you might
wish to use. Two of the best for this purpose are the pamphlets "Understanding
CFIDS" and "CFIDS in Children." Call 704/365-2343 or see the "Educational
Materials" form included with this newsletter for more information.)
Once you've sent your applications, try not
to get too stressed out waiting to hear whether you've been accepted. I know
it's much easier said than done, but if you get worried and stressed, you'll
only feel worse.
Once You've Decided Where to
I'm at this point right now, so I'll just tell you a few of the things
I've done. If your financial aid package includes work-study and you are not
healthy enough to work, ask the financial aid office if there's another way to
get the money. We did this and I was offered a loan.
If you're going to live on campus, talk to
the housing office. I requested a centrally located dorm and a room on a low
floor. You might also want to consider living in a private room and/or a
substance-free or quiet dorm.
People on campus that you might want to
talk to include the dean of students and those at the health center and the
office for students with disabilities.
I hope that this information is helpful to
you as you begin the college application process. Good luck!