Thinking About Taking a Semester Off? What You Need to Know


Taking a semester off isn’t an easy decision to make, but when you do it strategically, you can actually gain more from the experience than if you choose not to do it.

There’s a lot of societal pressure to complete your degree in the time the school says it should take, but for some, taking a semester off is the best decision. For example, for an undergraduate Associate’s degree, it generally takes two years to complete whereas a Bachelor’s degree will typically take four years to finish. However, many students feel the urge and/or need for taking a semester off. Despite that fact it may be considered taboo, the truth of the matter is that sometimes it’s the most reasonable and productive decision.


Everyone’s college, life and learning experiences are different, so taking a semester off truly comes down to a personal decision that only you can make for yourself. But, if it ends up being the right decision for you, then there are some things you should know and consider before doing so.



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Reasons to Take a Semester Off

There are a variety of reasons that make taking a semester off a valid choice. Here’s a look at a few of the most common reasons why it may be a good or necessary decision:



1. Financial:


It’s true, college is expensive, especially traditional on-campus options. Outside of attending a more affordable university like an online tuition-free college like University of the People, college often places a financial burden on students. If you truly cannot afford college at the given time, taking a semester off could be a good idea so that you can work to save up funds.



2. Reset:


University can be stressful. There’s a lot that is asked of students. Even outside of the classroom, students may be adjusting to living away from home for the first time or maintaining a job while studying, so regardless of why, you may just need time to reset and come back more focused.



3. Work or Business Idea:


While it’s possible to work or start a business during school, it can become overwhelming. Despite time management techniques, some business ideas or jobs are worth running with by dedicating all your time and energy to them. If this is the case, taking a semester off could give you the time needed to get an idea off the ground.



4. Losing Interest:


Of course, it’s natural to lose interest or have feelings of burnout during your college career. However, if it’s a consistent feeling where you cannot focus or are truly not retaining information from your courses, it may be time to take a break.



5. Personal/Family Crisis or Commitment:


Life happens, and sometimes, it’s so serious that it gets in the way of studying. When you are faced with a personal or family crisis, it’s ok to take time off because school will still be there when you are ready to return.



6. Health Issues:


Without your health, you literally have nothing. That’s why if you find yourself in a medical emergency or dealing with a health problem that is creating strife during your studies or making you unable to actually attend school, the time off could help you recover.



7. Unsure of Your Major:


An estimated 75% of college students change their major before they graduate, so it’s natural to question what you want to study and be for the rest of your life. Taking time off can actually help you answer this question by exposing you to new experiences and helping you to learn more about yourself.



8. Want to Transfer:


Many schools, including University of the People, accept transfer credits from different institutions to be applied towards earning your major. If you plan to transfer schools because your current institution is not working out, taking a break before jumping back in could help you reset and recharge.



9. Travel:


Many people want to travel. Of course, it’s a nice dream to have, but for some, the urge is so great and the calling is so strong that it’s a greater pull than school in their current situation. The good news is that travel can actually expand your mind and can, in truth, be the greatest teacher of all.



Things to Consider

Before taking a semester off, you should be realistic with yourself and understand the following truths. You may not want to ever return to college. For some, this path works out for them, but you need to really consider your future goals to evaluate if you can achieve your goals without a degree.


If you are considering a semester off, you can also look into taking a gap year. Gap years can help you learn more about yourself, and can even provide opportunities for future jobs and networking through various gap year programs.



What You Can Gain

Taking a semester off will be a learning experience, no matter what you choose to do during the time. For those that use the time productively, you can glean the following:


  • Helps point you towards your future goals
  • Provides you with relevant life experience
  • Gives you the time to figure everything out
  • Allows you to save up money
  • Creates a refreshed mindset for when you return
  • Expands your network of friends and potential business partners
  • Offers time to heal and be healthy



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How to Plan

The best ways to take time off and make it as productive as possible is to set a plan of action. This begins by understanding your reasoning and ends with what happens if and when you choose to return to school. Consider the following:


  • Decide why you need the time off
  • Outline your future goals and what you need to do to achieve them
  • Plan for it
    • Talk to a school counselor
    • Talk to mentors
    • Financially outline your needs
  • Figure out your return plan



Useful Tips

The world is a large place and school isn’t the only way to learn about it. During your semester off, try to do at least one, if not all of the following:


  • Read a lot
  • Travel if you can
  • Meet new people
  • Try new hobbies/learn new skills
  • Volunteer



Other Possibilities

Traditional on-campus universities are not made for everyone. They also are not the only way to earn your degree. Online universities are becoming an increasingly popular way to learn. For example, University of the People is an accredited online university that is tuition-free and has four programs to choose from: Health Science, Computer Science, Education and Business Administration.


Learning online allows you to set your own schedule and may take care of the many reasons why you’d choose to take a semester off of a traditional school in the first place.


For example, if you have health issues or responsibilities like raising a family, online school allows you to study when and wherever you choose, so you can potentially manage everything at once. Additionally, if your concern is financial, University of the People is tuition-free and has relatively minimal fees associated with earning your degree, plus the option for scholarships is still available.


Online universities are better solutions than semesters off for some, so before considering leaving school, check out your options!




Regardless of your reasoning, taking a semester off could be the best solution for you. But, in order to make it worthwhile, try to still set an intention and understand your end goal when you choose to do so.


Whether you do return to school or not, make the most of your time or consider an online university instead of a traditional school because earning your degree will no doubt open up countless opportunities for your future self!




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