Deciding to take a semester off from my studies was one of the hardest academic decisions I’ve ever had to make. If you’ve never considered it before, you might not think that much goes into such a choice, but I’m here to tell you how wrong you are.
Taking a semester off was terrifying.
I had a lot of questions: how would I tell my parents? Would I still be able to access health services? Would I lose access to things like my bus pass, student counselling, academic support, the PMC? Could I financially afford to add more time to my degree?
Some of these concerns were more pressing than others, and some of them had good answers – but not all did.
But before I get into all of that, let me tell you a bit about myself. My name is Sarah, I’m majoring in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies (ALDS), and doing a minor in Disability Studies. I’m a transfer student, having completed my first year of university at Trent University majoring in English. I quickly realized that their English program wasn’t for me, and soon after decided the ALDS program here at Carleton was a much better option. But transferring schools set me back in my timeline to graduation, turning all of the work I did in first year into electives and making me start over with all of the ALDS first year compulsory courses when I moved to Ottawa.
In my first year of university I also got diagnosed with a physical disability that, paired with mental health struggles, made me decide it was necessary to drop down to part time studies, starting with four courses in my first semester here and quickly dropping down to three. This decision, though necessary and extremely helpful, has already lengthened my graduation timeline once again, so the decision to take a semester off left me with lots to think about.
Have you ever noticed that the type of postsecondary education you get is measured by the time it (supposedly) takes to complete? Instead of saying “general degree” or “honours degree” you almost always hear that so-and-so is completing a “three year degree” or a “four year degree,” or students in college are completing “two year” diplomas. Subconsciously and consciously, this had created an implicit deadline in my mind that I felt I was already failing to meet. Taking a semester off felt like another failing.
So, I had a choice to make. And the choice in its most basic form looked like this: do I take a semester off for my health, or do I severely risk my health to graduate sooner, thus also putting my grades at high risk of dropping? Seems like it’s fairly simple, right? Except, as I mentioned above, it’s not.
Luckily, Carleton made the process as pain free as possible. While my mom was still half-convinced it meant I wouldn’t be returning (I will, mom, I promise!), I still have access to a number of important services on campus, namely the enormous support that is the PMC, and my expenses have only been stretched in terms of my living expenses, but I’ll still have those after I graduate anyway so whether I’m in school in two years or not isn’t a huge deal. All things considered, the biggest loss is probably not having my bus pass until I go back to classes – and that’s an easy price to pay for my mental and physical well-being!
So, officially a month and a half into my semester off, I am happy to report it’s the best academic decision I’ve ever made (after the decision to come to Carleton in the first place, of course – and I say that with complete sincerity)! At this rate, I’ll be ready and raring to go come September!
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