Should You Take a Semester Off?

Gap years between high school and college and study abroad trips taken during the summer or for a full year are becoming increasingly popular among American college students, but what about taking an entire semester off of school altogether? It’s a weighty question that you’ll have to discuss with family, professors, mentors and even friends, but for some students, taking a semester off can be vital in terms of setting them back on the right path to graduation and preparing for a career.

Taking a semester off usually results in a pretty dramatic event or trend in a students’ life, like consistently making poor grades because of a lack of focus or mental or emotional problem. Other reasons for a break may include a death or chronic illness in the family, a personal crisis, substance abuse, a student’s own illness, or such a severe disassociation with school that a complete reevaluation of college is necessary before continuing to invest in their education. Most college students experience rough semesters with bad grades in a particular class, severe homesickness, a lack of energy and motivation, and a questioning of what to major in, but leaving school for an entire semester isn’t usually necessary in those cases. So how do you know if you should start discussing a break with your parents?

If your problems are rooted in issues outside of class but are affecting all or most of your classwork, visit a counselor on campus to help you determine what’s causing you so much pain or frustration. Occasional anxiety is normal, but consistent depression is not. If something at home — like a death or serious illness — is disrupting your time at college, you probably need some time to spend with family, and won’t be able to focus on school the way you really want to or that will be beneficial to your education or GPA. Similarly, if you are wondering if you made the right decision in picking your major, you don’t need a semester break to rework your schedule. But if you don’t see the point of why you’re in school and have no ambitions or interest in any of your classes or the campus community, you may want to take a break before transferring to another program or even working for a year.

Taking a semester off is a serious action that will have to be discussed with the admissions office, your academic advisor, and of course, your family. Really consider the implications for your future, your grades and your health before making a decision.

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