Applying to School? Own Your Cystic Fibrosis

I think it’s quite common for kids with cystic fibrosis to dedicate part of their college applications to their lives with CF. I think it’s a great subtopic because it’s who we are!

So, as the next wave of kids with cystic fibrosis closes up their junior years of high school, prepares for senior year and the task of going through college applications, allow me to give some advice… own your cystic fibrosis.

The same could be said for graduate school; in fact it’s the strategy I used this past winter when I was applying.

I like to think of the way I live with cystic fibrosis as a tangible skill I can leverage, and I make sure to reflect that in applications (or even résumés for that matter). In fact I’ve written about ways we can positively leverage living with CF a few times before!

But how does this work with an application?

I think the first step is identifying skills that people without CF can relate to. Odds are the admissions board at whatever university you are applying to isn’t going to have someone familiar with CF looking at your application. So rather than diving into the technical medical jargon that a lot of us use, think about showing some traits you have as a result of living with CF. The second step is then using CF as a vehicle to show how that skill will contribute to your academic experience and the community as a whole.

Whether you believe it or not, living with CF has taught you some very useful skills. The first few that come to mind are discipline, motivation, and communication. Your list might be different, but those are the few that I prioritize when I try to talk about some of my stronger skills.

Discipline is an easy one for me. It means a lot of different things, too. I credit my parents with starting me on such a disciplined path when I was young. In a lot of ways, I know I am alive today because of how disciplined I am with my health, career, social life and anything else I am accountable for. Showing discipline on an application is as simple as talking about integrating your treatment routine into a typical academic day or something similar. In order for you to keep up with your studies, you need to stay healthy, and the only way to do that is to stay consistent with your treatments. Yes it is challenging, but you do it every day without even thinking twice about it. That skill, discipline in this case, can then translate to staying on task with an assignment, schoolwork, athletic practices or anything else.

I know I lean on my CF skills in just about any part of life, and that’s because they are useful, and you definitely do, too! Being disciplined enough to stay on task at work, for example, is incredibly useful in my career.

That’s really all an application is about. It’s showing how you can be useful for the community you are applying to, and how the community can be useful for you. In my opinion, talking openly and confidently about some of your skills is the best thing you can do for your application.

When you’re applying to college, graduate school or any job for that matter (and if you want to disclose CF in the latter example), showing how your can leverage your CF to better not only your own experience in the new community, but also the community at large will benefit you in ways you can only dream of.

The application process works both ways, too. As soon as you make your case about moving into a new community, the new school (or workplace) needs to call to you! When I applied to BC or Tuck most recently, I wanted to be sure that my new destination would accept me for who I am with open arms.

When I was applying to business school this past year, I applied to a handful of schools and I made the conscious decision that I would disclose my CF and present it in such a way that showed it would be beneficial for the community to include me and my CF in it. I had no desire to be part of a community that wouldn’t take my life experiences with cystic fibrosis in stride!

In my case, at every step of the way at Tuck/Dartmouth – the student interview, admissions committee members, and selected faculty – it was made quite clear to me that there was a deep desire to learn more about my CF and how I could integrate my experiences within the community. So when the admissions decision came, it was an easy choice for me to choose to enroll.

To sum up this up, if you choose to talk about your life with CF on an application to school, think about it as a skill, something you can use to better your college experience. Then… when a decision comes, make sure you’re heading to a place that will embrace your challenges and help you succeed. The former is just as important as the latter. I always like to encourage people with CF to disclose their CF in a school application because I think it can effectively paint a picture of who we are for the admissions committees!

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