Should You Take a Year Off From School?

This is a question many students face during their time at university. Under optimal circumstances you’re able to complete an undergraduate degree in the prescribed four year time frame  But life isn’t perfect and sometimes adjustments have to be made. And sometimes those adjustments turn out to be for the better, although it isn’t always clear at the time it’s done.

What are some of the reasons that you might take a year off from school, and how can it benefit you if you do?

The financial squeeze

With the cost of university today forcing many students to use student loan debt as a way to pay for it, financial concerns are never far from a student’s mind.

A rising student loan balance can be unnerving even for the most confident students. Sometimes loans can get so high that a student feels motivated to take action. That usually involves making some effort to earn some money to help pay for the education. Sometimes it can be accomplished with a part-time job, but other times more drastic measures need to be taken.

Taking a year off from school to earn some money to pay future university costs can sometimes be the right course of action. If the move reduces dependence on student loans, and gives the student peace of mind, it can actually improve the chances of completing the degree.

A friend of mine in the US did this after his sophomore year. But he did it not only to earn some money to help pay for school, but also to establish residency in the state where he was attending university. Once he did, he cut the cost of his education in half for the remaining two years. He graduated and went on to become an engineer.

Hitting the academic wall

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It can sometimes be worth taking time off from school if you are struggling academically. Sometimes the reason that you are is because you just need a break. Let’s face it, you probably have been in school continuously since kindergarten and that’s a long time to go without a major break.

While it may be considered more socially acceptable to tough it out and work through academic problems, sometimes the simplest and best solution is to just take some time to clear your head. The break can be the difference between completing your degree and dropping out.

Time to regroup and refocus

At different times in life it’s possible to hit upon a stretch when your current course of action just isn’t making sense. Sometimes this happens when you are at university. You may begin to question whether or not you’re in the right course of study, or even if university is the right choice at all.

You may need some time – away from school – to think long and hard about where you are and where you’re going. It’s not always possible to do that in a deep way while you’re still in school.

The time that you take off to refocus yourself could be the move that enables you to complete your degree. Taking time off will be preferable to dropping out completely. Think of it as the “pause that refreshes”.

I took some time off when I was at university. I spent some time working in a factory. I made some money for sure, but in that time I refocused myself, went back to school and finished my degree. It’s quite possible that had I not taken that time off, I never would have finished school.

– – Note from Justin – – I also see students that aren’t the most “mature” when they enter university (but really…who is). Some of the more extreme cases end up taking a year off and they come back and hammer out a degree in short time with great marks.  Although, sometimes it can backfire and one year off can turn into two, three, or they may never come back at all. Its similar to when students take a gap year after high school before college or university.

Personal issues

You can have personal issues any time in your life, episodes that cause distress and affect everything you do. There’s a certain “suck it up and deal with it” mentality that’s often recommended, but it doesn’t work for everybody.

If you are going through a difficult time it’s sometimes best to stay in school and concentrate your efforts on your studies as a kind of therapy to help you get through your troubles. But at other times you just need a break. Sometimes you just need time to get your head together, and sometimes there are things you need to do apart from school that will help make it happen.

Alternative to taking a year off: cut back to part-time

We’re talking about reasons why you might want to take a year off from school, but it isn’t necessarily an either/or decision. Depending upon what your motivation is for taking time off, you may want to temporarily change your status at school from full-time to part-time.

This will minimize the amount of time that you will lose in completing your degree. For example, if instead of making a complete break from school for a full year, you go part-time during that year. Your graduation may be delayed by only one semester instead of by a full year.

That will enable you to take care of what you need to outside of school, without seriously disrupting the time of completion.

The best way to go to university is to go straight through and graduate within four years. But if you absolutely need to take some time off, make sure that you are doing it for all the right reasons, and that you do it in a way that will be the least disruptive.

You may have other things going on in your life – we all do – but see your university education as the opportunity that it is. This is your time to get that education, and the opportunity may not present itself later.

Are you thinking about taking some time off from school, or have you done it in the past?

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11 years ago

I completely agree that sometimes taking some time off from college makes sense. I used to be more rigid in my beliefs about how a person should pursue their higher education. Now, I see that there are many ways “to skin a cat.” Each person is different, and that is why there are so many different colleges to choose from. It also makes sense that each person should pursue their degree in the best way for that person. It doesn’t matter what works for most people. What matters is what works best for you. As you mentioned, sometimes taking a… Read more »

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