The question on many college students’ minds — “Should you take a semester off?” It’s not hard to imagine why the question is a hot topic among college students, whether they’re entering their first year or quickly approaching their senior year. With news about the coronavirus pandemic changing day-to-day, everyone’s plans about their return to college for the 2020-2021 academic year are up in the air.
Some are questioning if in-person classes are going to be allowed, while others are questioning if it’s a good idea to go into the semester at all. With so many factors to take into consideration, keep reading to see what you should keep in mind when exploring the idea of taking a semester off.
How would you use the time off?
When considering taking a semester off, it’s important to think about how you are going to spend that time off. You definitely don’t want to take a semester off just to spend day after day lounging around the house and come out of the “break” with no progress to report.
For example, if you know your financial situation can benefit from switching to full-time work, taking a semester off may be the better option for you. Rather than spreading yourself thin over full-time classes and part-time work, you may just want to take a semester off in order to commit to full-time work and save up for your next semester. Depending on your financial situation after, you may be able to spare yourself from working during your next semester.
You don’t need to have a step-by-step guide to follow during your semester-off, but you do want to have a general idea of how to spend your time off — taking online courses at a local community college, exploring alternate career paths, and so on.
Take your finances into consideration
As mentioned previously, finances are often a large factor in college students’ decision to take a semester off. Scholarships and grants aren’t always guaranteed, so if you no longer are receiving the same financial aid you had that helped you pay for college and its associated costs, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with payments. If that’s the case, taking a semester off can help you “catch up” in the sense that you can pause on payments to tuition and build up your savings by spending more time working.
The coronavirus pandemic has also thrust multiple facets of life in uncertainty, like housing. Signing a lease on an apartment is a big deal, and moving back to college can be a large gamble for many during the pandemic. If you’re signing a lease on the chance that in-person classes will be allowed come fall semester, you are gambling on having to be stuck on a year-long lease in the case that education goes remote again.
For some, staying home with family and saving money from rent can be the deciding factor in being able to pay tuition. However, be sure to check how your scholarships and grants may be affected in the case that you do take a semester off.
Check yourself mentally
Burnout is a real thing, and you may very well be feeling it as you consider taking a semester off of college. Whether it’s from adjusting to the sudden shift to remote classes last semester to feeling outside pressures overwhelm you, your mental state can largely affect your decision to take a semester off.
Taking a semester off can give you the time you need to recharge on your own terms, and not have the expectations (and stress) that comes with school. As uncertain as the optics of fall semesters are, making the decision to take a semester off yourself may help alleviate some stress from your life. While no one can anticipate what the world will look like in another six months, there will likely be new information to help you navigate your return to school.
It’s also important to consider what extra time off can do to your college experience. You may want to consider that time off can also end with you deciding to leave college permanently, or more long term than a single semester off. If you do find yourself leaning toward taking a semester off, it’s always a good idea to make a return plan to help you on the path to returning to school.
The coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty
If you’re uncertain about your future — both in and out of college — you’re definitely not the only one. The world is facing uncertain, ever-changing times, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up about being uncertain about continuing your education in light of the pandemic.
No one’s reasoning for taking a semester off is going to be exactly the same, so it’s important to be mindful of the fact that your experiences aren’t going to reflect your friends’. At the end of the day, no one’s going to know your situation — whether it be mentally, financially — better than yourself.
Kaitlin Hurtado is a fourth-year literary journalism major at UC Irvine. She is a writer on Uloop.com’s national team and a campus editor for UCI.