Pursuing Education With MS

by Sara on November 17, 2012

For almost a week I have returned to the status of “college girl.” No, I have not been downing jello shots or going to keg parties. While I have known for most of my life that a college degree is necessary for most careers, until recently I did not have the opportunity to truly consider completing my degree. After my diagnosis I was certain that it would never happen – I could barely type, stay awake, or have coherent thoughts. Time has passed – I now find myself enrolled in college again. In hindsight I see signs that I already had Multiple Sclerosis in college, but certainly not as advanced as it now is. Pursuing education with MS is intimidating.

My last day of proper college was about 12 years ago after completing 70+ credit hours at Clemson University toward an English Literature / Secondary English Education degree. It is certainly not the school of choice for a liberal arts student, but it was close by. How strange to realize at age 32 that with 3 more semesters of effort then I could now be halfway to retirement with a teacher’s pension (and with summers OFF along the way!)

Of course I wasted a lot of time spent in school. Rather than use my hours for those initial general education courses, I worked to get through some of the more difficult classes early to avoid having them full in my later years when I ran out of time. In my memory, my grades were dismal, but now that I overlook my transcripts I realize that a B was not the end of the world. And the occasional C was alright, too. Especially for a lone freshman who skirted prerequisites to be in classes full of seniors. Now many of those classes are obsolete even at Clemson. Education has become a more utilitarian pursuit than one of human development. So, yes, perhaps my Medieval Literature, Modern Poetry, and Ethnic Literature classes hold no weight now while I have a multitude of general education hours to fill. Perhaps no one cares about those film classes or the hours I spent in The Brooks Center running sound boards and somehow getting perpetually lost in the halls behind the stages.

Although I wish I had never spent a dime in college that didn’t go efficiently toward my goal, the experience was priceless. I made incredible, lifelong friends there (including a roommate who has also been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis). I even met my husband there through WSBF. I’ve learned so much about myself that cannot be put into words. The college experience helped me to grow tremendously as an individual in a way that, I believe, no other undertaking can accomplish. There are not words to express how grateful I am that I was allowed the opportunity to attend college for as long as I did, and I dearly hope that if my husband and I ever adopt children they will have the same inclination and opportunity.

But scholarships only lasted for 2 years in those days before South Carolina embraced the lottery. And the internet was still a fledgling thing – full of 1 page meritless websites. Online shopping did not really exist, nor did online research. Amazon ONLY sold books – can you imagine? Finding scholarships required the aid of experts and online courses had not yet been conceived. It was beyond time for my parents’ money to go into retirement accounts instead of into their adult children. Paying rent took priority. In fact, at that time, paying rent was really all that we could manage as newlyweds. Qualifying for a student loan was impossible and the added cost of tuition was even less possible. Realizing that I could not return to school the next semester, I became despondent about the issue and didn’t even attend some of my final exams. I opted instead to send my professors emails and thanking them for their instruction while giving up on college forever.

My employer was acquired by a larger company several years ago and our employee benefits skyrocketed. Now we can be reimbursed up to $5,000 per year for education with the proper documentation. I was eager to begin the process but finding a school was tricky. I wasn’t sure if I should still work toward an English degree when I had spent the last decade neck-deep in technical work at a telecom. Plus, isn’t an English degree really a bit of a joke anyway? But so many valuable communication skills are acquired, and some of us are just drawn naturally to certain things.

It was disappointing to learn that Clemson had almost no online courses. I considered switching to a 3rd-shift position and commuting to the school to finish my degree. Although it would be a long drive and there would be no time to spend with my husband, it would be a temporary situation. However, those 3rd-shift positions were offered to others and I faced the fact that I must consider online schools instead.

A degree from an online school is better than no degree at all, but I did not want to spend time, effort, and money on an online degree that might garner little to no respect. I searched continually for a good fit. Most of the degrees were specific to tasks – meant to train the student to do a certain job. Only one quasi-English degree was available and I was not impressed with the school’s reputation. As I was on the verge of switching to a Psychology degree from another school, I found out about Ashford University. Ashford is an accredited brick-and-mortar private university in Clinton, Iowa that was established in 1918. In recent years it developed an online degree program (even for an English degree). Best yet, there was no requirement to complete that final fourth semester of French I had been dreading. Merveilleux!

Last week I addressed some cognitive dysfunction that I am battling. Unsure of how this would affect me in a college environment, I overestimated myself. My adviser encouraged me to file for accommodation with the school. Fortunately I did as I have already realized how little I am able to plan my days around even the initial requirements. My employer will need to pay the full cost for me to afford education, which means that I will have to cut the rate of classes I attend in half. It will take 4 years to complete my BA in English – longer if I complete a minor as well.

While I may be derailed along the way with relapses and exacerbated symptoms, I aim to persevere until I finally accomplish the goal I was so eager to complete the day I graduated high school. From time to time I will write updates on the process. Until then, I encourage you to not let the issues that come with Multiple Sclerosis stand between you and your education.

Sometimes opportunity is just the word we use to explain the crossroad of our patience and another’s kindness. When I have completed my BA I will have the on-paper credentials that will allow me to qualify for advancement within the company, and I will have a degree that will allow me to qualify for multiple work-at-home careers in case my disability progresses to a point where I am unable to maneuver an office environment. This will keep me financially independent and in the work force longer – hopefully until proper retirement.


Has Multiple Sclerosis affected your path to education?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Will November 18, 2012 at 1:35 PM

I am so proud of you babe. Believe it or not, how you have dealt with your disease has been a tremendous inspiration to me. 🙂


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