As much fun college can be, it is ROUGH. Everything weighs on you differently, the stakes are higher and life gets really real. Sometimes life gets too real and that weight is just simply too much on top of your studies. Be it a loss in the family, financial issues or you just need a break for the sake of your sanity- whatever it is sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, that being taking time off in your journey to graduate from college. It is nothing to be ashamed of as thousands of students take time off before college, after college and even during their undergraduate journey for a number of reasons that are all valid. Whatever your reason is for considering time off, here are four crucial things to consider before making this decision.
1. Consider The Cost
Basic economic principles tell us that there is a cost to everything- there are monetary costs (ya know, capitalism) as well as opportunity costs. Weigh ’em. Before deciding to take time off, consider how far you are into obtaining your degree. The good news is that for most colleges, formally withdrawing from a course or even semester will result in a ‘W’ meaning there will be no actual harm done to your GPA, so long as you withdraw in the proper time frame. The bad news is hopping back in might be difficult as some classes are only available during one semester instead of both. Before you make the decision to withdraw for a semester or year consider how it will affect your transcript and consult with your academic dean.
Along with considering the opportunity and monetary costs, truly consider WHY you are choosing to take this time off. As previously stated, whatever your reason may be for taking a semester or longer off is completely valid, however, consider exactly how beneficial your withdrawal will be in accordance to your situation and who you are as a person. Some people cope by going harder on their studies and work to distract themselves while this may not be the case for others. All in all, consider if your break is worth it to you.
2. Consider How Long
Life is funny, therefore we may not always be in complete control of certain timeframes. Now that we are at this stage, you have weighed your pros and cons about taking time off- you have either decided that the pros outweigh the cons on you are still on the fence. Now it is time to consider a timeframe that you can stick to. Consider how much time you need off. Will you need just a semester to regroup? Or will you need a year- maybe longer to get all of your affairs in order due to your circumstance? Also, use this time frame as a decision deadline. Make it a deadline to decide whether or not you need more time off. Set a time frame in which you decide whether or not you return to that institution or to school at all. Getting a degree is not a race as everyone will go at their personal pace, however, make sure you do not get caught up to the point that you feel that it is too late. It is never too late to go back should you decide, there is no definitive consensus as to what qualifies as “too long”- that is up to you. Keep this sense of structure as parents and possibly even the administration may ask about your projected timeframe.
3. Consider What You Would Do
Going from a structured schedule of class, studying and other extracurriculars you were involved with on campus to not having any of those things can be a sudden and startling transition. Some people operate best with some kind of structure throughout their day to day life, while others are perfectly content going with the flow. In your time off, it is best to make it count- especially when presenting your case to your parents.
One of the first considerations underneath this stage is what your location shall be during this time. This especially applies to students who are outside of their home state for college and or live off campus, do you plan on returning home?
Next is considering what kind of productivity you will need. Granted, it is okay to give yourself a grace period to not have to worry about HAVING to do something, however, make your time off count. If you are taking off due to a major loss in your family or some other traumatic event, I highly advise that you take this time off- however long that may be to fully invest in your mental health. Allow yourself space and time to hurt, grieve and heal as well as seek help for your mental health when you feel that you are ready.
If you have to take a break for financial reasons, make sure your next moves benefit you financially. For this, I would consider going back home and applying for jobs. If you’ve been in school longer, you might be able to play up your time at school and as well as your skill set for better pay. Have a financial goal set as well as a budget plan set in place for your next moves.
If you just simply need a break and time away from school to rethink your life and career path, consider participating in a gap year program.
4. Consider Your Return
For some, this step may come later on, however, consider if and when you will return to school. Along with considering your reasons as to why you are taking a break, consider if college is meant for you. If you figure that it is, awesome! If not, that’s still awesome- many of us have been conditioned to view college as a must that we may not have much choice in the decision to go. Maybe NOW in the present or immediate future may not the right time, but possibly later in the future will be the right time for you to return should you choose to do so.
For those that are certain that they want to return to schooling after taking time off, consider if you want to return to your original school or if a transfer will benefit you. Sometimes we try to stick it out in environments that do not fulfill us because we are afraid of change and transition. We think, “I’m in too deep now, might as well finish up here” when that can do more harm than good. If you feel that part of what is influencing your decision to take time off is the campus itself, look into other schools that have programs that match up with your field of interest. No need to return from a needed and refreshing break to an environment that you truly do not want to be in.
If you do plan on returning to your original school, keep in contact with the academic deans so you know where you will fall in terms of your degree track when you get back. Also, consider whether or not you wish to go back as a full-time or part-time student.