Tips for Taking a Semester Off from College to Prevent Burnout

Updated on March 12, 2018
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Kieron graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2000 with a Bachelors degree in Psychology.

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For many students, college can be the best 4 or 5 years of their lives. However, there are also many students who get to college and start to experience burnout or confusion over what they want to do after school. Sometimes this can lead to falling grades, or students questioning whether or not going to college was even the right decision for them.

In certain cases, some people have taken a semester off in order to recharge their batteries and regain focus on their studies. While this can be a positive thing to do, it can also be a hard decision to explain to parents, family, friends, and fellow students.

The following are tips/strategies for people to maximize their time off before heading back to college to get their degree.

Have a Plan Before Making the Decision

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If you decide that you want to take time off from school to clear your head, you should create a plan in order to sell the idea to your parents. The plan will not only put their mind at ease, but it will also be something that you can look back on throughout the semester to keep you on track.

You should consider your plan almost like a business plan. Make sure that you account for the reasons that you are taking the time off as well as what you plan on doing throughout each phase of your time away from school. It will be an added bonus if you can explain what types of lessons you will be learning during each phase.

Do not underestimate how important having a plan can be. Parents will initially view your semester off with worry because they will fear that you will lose motivation to go back to school. They usually also have a significant financial investment tied into your academic success. Not to mention that the lack of a plan will also lead to an absence of personal focus and motivation on your end.

Get a Job, Gain Experience

The best thing that you can do during your time off is get a job. Whether it be paid or unpaid, get up every morning and work. The job does not have to be full-time and if you are creative it does not even have to be working for another person. There are plenty of students who have tried their hands at small start-up businesses with varying degrees of success. The main goal no matter what you do is to gain experience and transferable skills that you can add to your resume.

The job skills will not only help you develop career-wise, but also help you out in interviews when you can bet that you will be asked why you took a semester off and what you did during that time period. Your short-term job may even help you focus on a major or career path that you had not considered prior to your break.

Read Anything and Everything Around You

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One of the hardest things to do during time away from college is keep your mind academically sharp. While your classmates are continuing to go to class, take exams, and write term papers, you will be away from the grind doing something completely different.

In order to continue developing the intellectual part of your brain, you should continue reading anything that is close to you. Whether it be a newspaper, novel, or something off the New York Times bestseller list, read it. When you are done reading it, try to find someone to discuss it with so you can continue practicing your critical thinking skills.

Try your best to stay up to date with current events. Watch the news occasionally, or visit sites like CNN to stay fresh on what is going on in the world. Another positive thing to do is make a reading list of books within your major. By the time you get back to college, you will be equipped with questions and knowledge that your classmates may not even have yet.

Avoiding your intellectual side will only lead to you wanting to avoid going back to school later, and that will just lead to an overall tough transition back to college.

Travel Outside of Your Comfort Zone

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One of the beautiful things about being in college is being exposed to different people from so many different places. Once you take your time off, it is likely that you are going to head back to the same area that you grew up in, and the same ideas to which you were always exposed in the past.

If possible, try to find some time to travel to other areas during your break. It may end up as a big trip to Europe or the Caribbean, or it could just be a trip out of state to visit some family members. In either case, the trip will not only keep you excited, but it will also broaden your horizons. Take a moment to take in new places of interest and talk to as many people as possible in the new areas.

Ultimately, it may never be as easy to travel once you are back in college and/or the working world, so take advantage of it.

Keep Talking...To Everyone

While you are away from school, go out of your way to talk to as many people as possible. Talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your classmates back at school. Most importantly, find a way to talk to as many random people as possible that you come across on a daily basis. These new people will allow you to break out of your normal college social bubble, and be exposed to new ways of thinking.

As tempting as it may be, do not sit at home all day and play video games or watch television. The best way to learn more about yourself is usually by interacting with other people in the outside world.

Do you find it easy to meet new people?

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Stay Positive and Keep Your Head Up

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For some of you, the semester away from school may have been less of a choice and more of a requirement. If you experienced burnout prior to taking time off, bad grades may have led to your break. If this is the case, keep your head up and know that you are your own best support system.

Continue to keep your confidence up, even when people ask why you are not back at school. Be honest with yourself about what mistakes you may have made to get in the situation and start working on correcting them. Take it a step beyond and start working on solutions for when you get back to college so you do not end up in a similar situation later.

The most important thing to do is stay motivated no matter what the situation is. College can often be like a 12 round boxing match. Just because you got knocked down in the early rounds does not mean you cannot still win the fight. Use the time off to your advantage. Make a plan, stay busy, keep your mind sharp, and continue talking to people around you. At the end of it all, you will be happier for it.

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