Take a Semester Off, The Right Way | 02.01.11

Posted in College Life, Financial Aid By Student Loan Network Staff

Taking a semester off from school can sometimes get a bad rap. I’ve often been told not to take a semester off, because “you might not go back”. While this can certainly be the case, taking a semester off can also have many benefits. It can help you to save money in the long run or give you a needed rest. Whatever your reason, there’s a right way and wrong way to take a semester off. Read on for tips on how to make the most of your semester off.

Reasons to Consider Taking a Semester Off

There are many different reasons for taking a semester off. The first step to deciding whether or not to take a semester off is deciding why you want to do it. Some common reasons for taking time off are:

  • Family Troubles: If your parents are separating or going through a divorce, it can be hard on a student. If this is starting to affect your grades, consider taking the semester off. Just make sure you decide before the withdrawal period, otherwise it could have negative effects. This could save you money in the long run as you will not have to retake any failed classes.
  • Illness: This one seems obvious, but if you come down with an illness that prevents you from going to class or doing your work, taking the semester off could help. Take time to recover both physically and mentally before heading back to start a new semester.
  • Financial Issues: Didn’t get the loan you needed to cover tuition? This is a common problem, especially with rising tuition costs. Consider taking some time off to work full-time. While not everyone’s first option, it’s sometimes a necessity for paying for school. Before considering this, make sure you’ve exhausted all other loan options.
  • Need a Break: You might find that after a few semesters, you are burnt out, or that you need a change of scenery. Taking a semester off can allow you to rest and clear your head, hopefully allowing you to start your next semester reinvigorated.

What to Do Instead

If you’re taking time off for family or health reasons, getting motivated to go back to school may not be a problem. However, if your reason for taking time off is to take a break from the routine, getting the motivation to go back could prove problematic. The key to making the most of your semester off is to keep busy. Here are some ideas to help keep you active:

  • Apply for an Internship: While school may not be on your radar for this semester, taking on an internship could prove beneficial. Building your resume is an important part of the college experience and internships are a great way to learn about your potential job field. You’ll gain hands-on experience while staying active during your time off. If a full-time internship is too time-consuming, consider a part-time one. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to find a paid internship. Some internships require that you get course credit, but not all, so make sure to put some time in researching. Tip: Interships.com has a database full of different internships and is a great place to start.
  • Travel: Taking time off to travel isn’t possible for everyone, as it usually requires more funding than available. However, there are some ways to see the world, cheap. Volunteer programs often offer scholarships or grants. So you can take a semester to volunteer in another country for practically nothing. You usually get housing, meals, and potentially a small stipend. If volunteering isn’t your thing, in many countries you can work at resorts or vacation spots. They provide housing and a salary for your work, and you have your off hours to do a bit of traveling.
  • Community Service/ Volunteer Program: Volunteering is a great way to make the most of your semester off. Rather than sitting on your couch at home, you could be interacting with people in your community. Food pantries and homeless shelters are great local options for volunteering and are always looking for help. There are also programs you can sign up for to volunteer in other places in the US or abroad. These can be particularly great options because they allow you to see another part of the world while still working for a cause. Like internships, community service can be used as a resume builder, which is an additional bonus.

Why Taking a Semester Off Could Be Problematic

Before taking a semester off, make sure that you not only plan your time well, but also consider some of the cons. Here are just a few:

  • You Don’t Go Back: This is seen as the biggest issue (especially for parents) when a student takes the semester off. Students might get into a routine, maybe get a full-time job and become “stuck”. The key to this is knowing yourself, and whether or not you are motivated enough to finish school.
  • You’ll Graduate Later: Unless you overload on credits for a couple semesters, you will most likely be graduating later than you had planned. This could be negative in that maybe friends will have graduated, leaving you with a semester left of school.
  • Loan Payments Could Kick In: If you have taken out loans for previous semesters, taking a semester off might be an issue. You have a 6 month grace period from the time you stop attending school until you begin to repay your loans, so make sure you are re-enrolled and notify your lender before the 6 month mark.

Though taking a semester off is not for everyone, it can prove beneficial in the right situations. When deciding whether it is for you, consider why you want to take time off and think about the best ways to use it to your advantage.

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