We recently came across an article that does a great job helping families understand how to think through “time off” for students who are already in college. This is a great call out, because not all Gap Years are taken by students right after high school. Some decide to take a break after they start college. We excerpt a few salient points from this piece written by Diane Schwemm at CollegiateParent (with tips from student success expert Vicki Nelson), and then you can read it for yourself! (This post follows in the theme and time of year as another post-Thanksgiving article from the New York Times a few years back.)
What is happening?
During the pandemic, a larger number of students than usual may be feeling dissatisfied with their college experiences. First-year students may still be homesick. It can take a full semester or even a year to adjust to college. Students who still haven’t settled in and made a meaningful connection with their new college community may assume this means they don’t belong.
Second-year students may be experiencing “sophomore slump”…Students get burned out. The end of the semester is a time of high stress and short, dark days. Small things that haven’t been going quite right all year may be coalescing into a bigger ball of unhappiness.
Suggestions for Transfer/Time Off Conversations
“Can you look at first semester as a foundation to build on?”
First-year students especially may not realize how much they’ve learned — and changed. What new academic understanding do they have, both in subject matter and “college knowledge?” What connections have they made? Help your student think about making the most of the hard work they’ve already done.
“Can you make changes next semester that will put you in a better spot?”
Could it be all that’s needed is a fresh start? Can they study differently, change their living situation, focus on time management, create a healthier lifestyle? What classes are they excited about taking next semester? Maybe their major isn’t a good fit. Talk about that.
“Is the problem with the school or with you?”
This sounds blunt, but a student who wants to transfer should consider whether any problems (social, academic, etc.) will simply transfer with them. Help your student find the root of their unhappiness.
“Could you consider returning to school with a plan to transfer next year?”
Your student may be anxious to transfer or leave school, but it can be difficult to complete the transfer process mid-year and also to adjust to a new school when almost everyone else has been there a semester. Next fall there will be more students making transitions. Returning with the plan of transferring later may relieve some pressure and your student may find they actually enjoy college more. Help your student consider whether finishing the year might allow time to make a smoother, more thoughtful transition or even re-evaluate the decision.