College is a stressful time for many undergraduate students, it’s a pivotal point of time in a young person’s life. This stage of life is packed full of personal development; finding your identity and purpose in the world, preparing for a career, networking, balancing academics, social schedules, and so much more!
Typically, when we think of college students we think of “traditional” students. A traditional college student can be loosely defined as a young adult between the ages of 19-25, enrolled in an undergraduate program, whose primary responsibility, is completing their education. Traditional students are usually categorized as students who are not fully financially, physically, or emotionally self-sufficient; they do not have dependents or families to provide for, they typically don’t work full-time jobs to pay their bills or take care of other “adult” responsibilities full time.
Then there are also students who perhaps started their career is after graduating high school, served in the military, are married with children, employed full-time, or any other combination that sets them apart from the “traditional” college student category, these students are referred to as “non-traditional” students.
According to a wide variety of surveys and statistics reviewed by Study.com, the line separating traditional and non-traditional students is becoming more and more blurred with time. In fact, based on the previously discussed definitions, there are currently more non-traditional students enrolled in undergraduate programs than there are traditional students.
Regardless of what distinction you fall under, or the combination of factors that surround your enrollment, college is a very hectic time in a person’s life. Irrespective of your status, there is something more important that we all have in common: there is always more to our lives than being a student. Each student, alongside their academic responsibilities, has a life filled with adversity; struggles, stressors, challenges, responsibilities, and outside distractions that require time, energy, and attention. Perhaps, a close friend or family member passes away, your kids get sick, your landlord increases your rent so you have to pick up more hours at work, or you live with a pre-existing mental health challenge that is rearing its ugly head. What do you do if your grades are slipping, you can’t sleep, focus, and struggle to make it to class or finish assignments on time? Do you grit your teeth, hold on to the bitter end, tank your GPA and further stress yourself out, or do you withdraw from a few of your classes, un-enroll, or even take a semester off?
The answer isn’t always easy. Maybe your situation is further complicated by other factors, perhaps you’re unaware that you even have options, or you’re scared of making the wrong decision. Maybe you even think “It’ll pass,” or “no one else seems to have this hard of a time,” or even “maybe I’m just not cut out for this college thing.” Sometimes we have a hard time striking a balance, sometimes, what we’re doing isn’t working that’s when it’s time to do something different. You have options, and you are not alone.
One of the most important things to remember if you find yourself contemplating taking a semester off, reducing your course load, or any variation of the two, is that nothing is forever, and doing what is best for you is never the wrong decision. There tends to be a lot of misinformation and misconceptions surrounding the idea of taking a semester or semesters off from college.
Many people assume that if a student decides to take a break from school, they weren’t serious about their education, they had poor grades, couldn’t keep up, will never return to school, or even that they are doomed to a life of failure and mediocrity. It’s just not true! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40% of students don’t complete their college education within a time frame of six years, it’s more common than we are led to believe. It’s not an easy decision to make, and it can feel like you’re making a mistake or failing, but ultimately it comes down to your mental, physical, and emotional health.
One of the most common arguments against taking a break is that “I’ll fall behind,” and while I accept that premise, I reject the conclusion. Fall behind what? There is no timeline for your life, no predestined checkpoints for what you are supposed to achieve and when it’s your life. If the way things are right now isn’t working, if you’re not healthy, happy, or able to balance all of the things in life that are demanding attention from you, it’s okay to take a break. In fact, plenty of people do!
There are many reasons a student may need to take a break. These include financial hardship, personal or familial crisis, illness, grades are slipping, and major lifestyle changes.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to best make the change: Discuss your plan with a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor; determine how it affects financial aid status; discuss options with Student Financial Aid services; then speak with an academic advisor and file an official withdrawal/leave of absence with the registrar’s office.
At the end of the day, it is a personal decision and one you have to make for yourself. There’s no shame in taking the time to get back on your feet, straighten out your home life, or take the time to just breathe, the only wrong decision is one that that isn’t beneficial for you. I took a break, and it’s the best decision I could have made for me, and my family. You can too, if that’s what’s right for you.