People looking up at a giant graduation cap with a campus map superimposed on it

Planning for College and a Career with Arthritis

Last updated: May 2019

My high school graduation was one of my proudest moments. I excelled at school and received many honors, and was excited to go to college. While I didn't expect it to be easy, college ended up being the most challenging experience of my life due to my health. Looking back, I was totally unprepared to go to college with a chronic illness.

Having lived with juvenile psoriatic arthritis for most of my life, I was used to asking for accommodations at school. As soon as I put in my deposit, I requested a dorm room near my classes and thought I was done. Boy, was I wrong: planning to go to college with arthritis goes beyond simple requests! It requires a lot of careful consideration, research, and preparing for a possible future with chronic pain.

Consider the requirements of your college major

If you only follow one piece of advice, let it be this: know the demands of your major's requirements. Research everything you can about the classes: if possible, reach out to professors, current student, and alumni. While it sounds intense, it's better to do all this research now than to switch your major if the classes are too painful.

You may think this sounds a little silly, but I've found many classes physically intensive in unexpected ways. For example, a graphic design class may require you to cut pieces by hand. Mechanical engineers may need to do some machining for parts. And architects may be required to construct both large and small models

In my case, I was grandfathered into an industrial design course that did not require model making. I was thankful because the few models I did have to construct caused a lot of joint pain, especially in my hands. But if I waited a year to go to college, I would've been required to take woodworking and model making courses. I'm glad it worked out the way it did because I would have been forced to either switch my major or find a new college.

Consider your school

What school you attend is a deeply personal choice. You need to consider many things, such as price, reputation, available programs, and flexibility. Many people believe that online classes are the best option for people with arthritis. While they can be helpful, don't assume it's the right choice for you. Online classes, while convenient, require a good amount of discipline, class participation through online forms, and independent learning. They also may not be available for certain majors.

Consider career prospects

One of the best pieces of advice I received in high school was to read want-ads for jobs I might be interested in. While it was a helpful way to learn the necessary skills for my career path, it also got me thinking about the ideal work situation. I realized not every workplace is arthritis friendly, and physical requirements are only one part of that. It's important to consider whether schedules, dress-codes, and other environmental factors in a job will bother you.

My JA friends and I choose careers and majors based on our physical abilities. Some had the goal of landing a desk job and studied accounting or coding. Others decided to go for fields that are tolerant of remote work, such as copywriting. And a couple pursued physical careers, such as nursing, because they found being stationary to be more painful. It all depends on what you're most comfortable doing.

College was worth it (for me)

The pain of arthritis shouldn't make you miss out on the experience of going to college. While it was challenging, it was extremely rewarding for me. Yes, there were flares, dark moments, and long hours; there were times I felt like I couldn't go on. But I also gained valuable knowledge, amazing experiences, lifelong friendships, and independence. For me, it was worth it.

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