When is it Okay to Take a Semester Off?

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College isn’t easy. We all know that. We’re pulled in every direction by athletics, academics, our job, internships, extracurricular activities and our social lives. There is little room for anything else. While most times, it’s important to just work through the tough times and push ourselves to the finish line, there are a few good reasons to take a semester off from school. Read on to see if you should consider a break.


1. There’s a family crisis

This is so important! If you find yourself dealing with a serious family emergency like death, divorce or illness, that can take precedence over school. Some people actually cope with illness or death better when they have other things to focus on, like academics. “I had a family crisis last year during the middle of the year, but my family urged me to stay in school,” says Kelsey, a sophomore at Eastern University. “It ended up being for the best because I wasn’t constantly thinking about the situation at home, since I had academics and everything else right in front of me.” However, if you’re not that type of person, consider taking a semester off. If you’re in class but constantly worrying about your family, it is not worth staying in class and getting bad grades. Come back next semester with a clear head and smash those classes. But while you’re at home, don’t slack off. Help your family with whatever they need, think about applying for a part-time job and maybe even consider taking an online class. It’s bound to be less vigorous than a full credit load, and it’ll keep your mind active and ready to go back to campus in a few months. But most importantly, cherish the time you have with your family while you’re home.

2. You run out of money

With college tuition on the rise, debt is a serious issue. Many college students have to pay their own tuition, so they rely fully on loans and their savings. It’s not uncommon for students to run out of money part way through earning their degree. And we aren’t talking the “OMG I’m so broke I can’t even afford guac in my burrito bowl” kind of broke, we’re talking about literally running out of money and having nothing to fall back on. It’s a harsh reality for many students, especially in today’s economy, and taking a semester off is a way to alleviate debt and make some money. “My dad lost his job while I was in my first year, and my parents were paying for my college, so I decided to take a semester off and help my family,” says Kate, a junior at Temple University, “I found a job close-by that paid well and I actually ended up becoming closer to my family members than ever before. Truthfully, I’m so glad I made the decision to take the semester off.” If you’re considering taking a semester off for this reason, we advise that you begin looking and applying for jobs before you leave school. Doing this ahead of time may give you more time to work once you’re actually home.

3. You become seriously depressed, anxious, over-exhausted and/or suicidal at school

It’s so easy for mental health to be pushed to the back burner in college. There are so many other responsibilities that seem to overshadow our mental well-being. If you find yourself becoming depressed, anxious or suicidal, you need to see a mental health professional to talk about your options. They will likely advise you to talk to a professional outside of school, as well as give you advice about how to continue through college. Taking a semester off could be the best option if you’re in this position. See a doctor, find a therapist at home and take the semester to get yourself back on track. Your mental health is always going to be more important than your GPA.

Over-exhaustion is also very real among college students. The often crushing weight of assignments and extracurricular activities leads to burnout. In this situation, taking a semester off is also viable option. We recommend finding a counselor at home to help find new ways to reduce stress and let out frustration. Spend time resting and rejuvenating yourself. Find a new active hobby, like yoga or running, that helps you alleviate anxiety and stress. Another option is travel. “I think if someone does take a semester off they should either travel or have a balance of work and something they love to do,” says Cassandra Balado, a junior at Pace University, “You have to be honest with yourself about why you’re considering it.” Taking time to travel by yourself or with a friend can be the perfect solution to over-exhaustion.

Related: 17 Signs You’re Ready to Get TF Out of College

4. You lose interest in school all together

If you find yourself completely disinterested, apathetic and unmotivated about your studies for a long period of time, we recommend talking to your parents as well as an advisor or guidance counselor at your school to discuss next steps. College isn’t for everyone. That’s why there are hundreds of other options (tech schools, trade schools, etc.) that will land you the career of your dreams without going to a traditional university. “I was in art school for two years before I realized that I hated it,” says Judy, a Lehigh Valley School of Nursing alumna. “I quit the next semester, and took a few months to look into other options. I applied for nursing school and got accepted, and realized that I had such a passion for it. 40 years later, here I am, still in the field.” Taking a semester off to explore other options may be just what you need to spark motivation for your future.

5. You receive a special opportunity

Sometimes, an opportunity arises that you just can't pass up. Especially with the election this year, college students were considering trading their class schedules for internships with political candidates. Sometimes internships are seriously intensive and more like a full-time job than an internship. "I was on an organizing team for Hillary Clinton's campaign in Philadelphia," says Yasmine Hamou, a sophomore at Temple University. "So I spent most of my days organizing voters into specific groups so that they could contact and be contacted by the right people to get them more involved. While organizing was similar to what I had done in the past as a fellow for President Obama, there was a lot more ennui this time around." Other situations can arise, too. Some schools and religious organizations offer programs that span months where students work on service projects in areas of need. Sometimes these programs include cross-cultural classes, but often they are solely for mission work. "I'm planning on taking a year off of school after my sophomore year to do missions abroad," says Morgan, a sophomore at Hesston College. "I've decided to take this step because I want to try and apply what I've been studying to make sure that it is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It also will give my brain a little break after two years of cramming info in there." Opportunities like these don't come around often, so when they do, consider them. You might learn invaluable lessons from a campaign or a mission trip that a professor can't teach you.

Remember: No grade is worth your well-being or your family life. “I think sometimes we put a lot on our plates and a semester off can help clear our heads giving us a new perspective on priorities,” says Cassandra. “You have to know yourself, though, and be aware if you will have motivation to go back finish up your degree.” Like Cassandra says, it can be tough to return to school after a semester off, but remember why you started in the first place. Remember the dream career you had as a little girl that transformed as you grew up, and go back to school to make that little girl proud.

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About The Author

Temple University '19. Her Campus National Features writer; Her Campus Temple Senior Editor, Events Coordinator, and staff writer. Aspiring magazine journalist and personal trainer. Proponent of lists and the Oxford comma. My soul is filled to the brim with a love for fashion, health, fitness, journalism, music, travel, and Jesus. Follow my journey: twitter- @sarah_madaus | instagram- @sarah_madaus