Seven Years in School

Last week, I wrote about what it’s like to go through college with a disability. Today, I share why it took me seven years to complete my degree.

Every September through April, and many summers between 2012 – 2019, I was 100% devoted to earning that degree. I intended to complete it in the standard four or five years. I was slowed down in the beginning because Braille books were crazy expensive, we’re talking ~$40,000 each, and my school could not afford to produce more than one or two a semester. I transferred school’s after the three-year mark, because my fantastic island university did not have the program I wanted to get into. Not all the courses transferred successfully, so I had to retake a few. My dream program was insanely competitive, and I never got in. This meant I had to switch majors near the end of my undergrad. I wish that at the end of seven years, I had the degree I set out to get. But alas, life doesn’t always grant your wishes, no matter how hard you wish for them.

My schooling roadblocks had nothing to do with my school. They were a byproduct of a society entrenched in their beliefs. The degree I hoped to graduate with was a five-year program called dietetics. At the end of this program, I would have become a registered dietitian, where I would have fulfilled my dream of helping others address weight issues. I longed to make people feel better about themselves inside and out. I was going to join the body positive movement and fight the eating disorder culture that had hurt me as a teen. I had no idea prejudice and complacency would be the roadblocks that stopped me from making a difference in people’s lives.

The dietetics program is a competitive one. Only 36 students are granted admittance every year. Anywhere from 90 to 120 students apply. The 36 best students are chosen based on academic success, related experience, interview skills, and references from other dietitians. My grades were never the problem. I slogged my way through my undergrad rarely defiling my transcript with a B+. My interview skills were never the problem. I thought well under pressure and was awarded nearly every position I interviewed for. I did my best to gain related experience. I volunteered at cooking camps, hospitals, and in elementary schools. I worked with low-income children, seniors, and young mothers. I wrote nutritional blog posts, managed social media accounts, and presented nutrition workshops. I even gathered recipes for an accessible recipe database and tested them to ensure correct nutritional information. I made up a ten-month plan to get a position at the only restaurant in Vancouver that employed blind people and got a job there in eight months. I did my best to diversify my experiences and become the well-rounded applicant the dietetics program would be unable to turn down.

While I succeeded in volunteering for the general public, most dietitians could afford to be picky. They had students begging to work for them, and it was much easier and simpler to work with the sighted ones. I must have applied to volunteer for fifteen or twenty dietitians over the years. Only two accepted my resume and both of them preferred me to take on minor rolls, such as blogging and presenting. I don’t blame them for placing me in these roles. Truly, I don’t. I was uncomfortable cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen and exceptionally lost creating visual posters. I just never imagined that cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen and creating visual posters would be the downfall of my career.

When it came time to put together my application, you see, both the dietitians who had been cool enough to work with me felt that neither of them knew me well enough to provide a reference. I got reference letters from two other awesome people I had volunteered and worked for, but neither of them were dietitians.

I made it to the interview stage of the application process, meaning I had made the first cut and it was down to me and about fifty others. I got my rejection email exactly a month later. The reason I failed? I am almost 100% positive it was because I did not have enough experience working with dietitians. Irony hurts.

I finished up my undergrad and got a Bachelor of Science in food, nutrition, and health. This is still a good degree. I have fantastic friends who, quite smartly it turns out, set out for it from the beginning. Despite being on a different path than I planned, I am still excited to change not only people’s perceptions of size but also their perceptions of blindness and disability. I can use my knowledge and experience to address not one, but two, societal issues close to my heart. Life may not always take you where you intend to go, but sometimes the alternate destination is better than where you thought you would end up.

Be kind, and be aware.

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