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Should You Take a Semester Off?

Jan 22, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Taking a semester off sounds like bad news—but is it really? For some, it’s the best way to deal with tuition hikes, personal problems that are affecting grades, or indecision regarding a major. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of taking a semester off of college.

 The Disadvantages

When you come back, school could be more expensive 

Some students drop out of school for financial reasons—they have to work and save money to deal with high tuition hikes. But chances are the tuition will go up again the semester after—and the semester after that. Overall, the longer you wait to get your degree, the more your tuition will cost. So leaving school to save up for tuition costs can sometimes wind up costing you more.

If you go, you may not come back

Student Considering

When most people state that they’re taking time off from school, often the assumption from others is that they’re never going to go back. This isn’t true for everyone. But for some—especially for students who left because they were unhappy in an academic environment, or who felt getting a college degree wasn’t getting them closer to what they really wanted in life—school gets more and more remote as time goes by. For some, one semester can turn into two and more, and there’s no question that once you start working or start a family, it is extremely difficult to go back.

You may have to start repaying student loans

When you take a semester-long break, your student loans will go into repayment after six months. If you’re taking a break in the spring semester, it’ll be more than six months till you go back to school and can get another deferment—so you may be stuck repaying your loans over the summer. This can make it more difficult to save if you left for financial reasons.

The Advantages

Happy Student

If you’re dealing with something big, you may need the time 

Maybe you’re dealing with the illness or death of a loved one, coping with depression or getting out of an abusive relationship. Whatever the reason, your grades are slipping for personal reasons. If this is the case, it’s better to take a semester off to deal with personal issues than to drop out entirely.

Taking a break gives you time to decide on a major

If you’re the type of person who switches majors every year, maybe some time off would help you get some focus. A semester off could give you time to work or volunteer in an area you’re interested in, giving you some real world experience. In an ideal situation, you’ll be eager to go back to school and get your degree so that you can go back to working in a field you love.

Taking time off lets you save money

With tuition hikes as high as 30% in some schools, there are plenty of students who take a semester off because they have no other choice. If you take a semester off to work while you live at home, you could potentially save up enough money to cover the next semester without taking out exorbitant loans—and your parents could also save money for your tuition at the same time. For some students, this isn’t an ideal solution—but it’s the best one open.

If you take a semester off, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never come back. The best predictor of that is the reason you’re considering taking time off. If you’re leaving because you don’t think a college degree will get you what you want or you don’t like the college environment, you’re much more likely to stay out of school than if you leave for financial or personal reasons but still feel driven toward getting your degree. Whatever your decision, don’t take it lightly—because going back to school is often not as easy as you think.


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