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The path to earning a college degree is different for each student. Many students take breaks or gap years for a variety of reasons while pursuing their postsecondary education. There’s no shame in taking a break from school, especially if you encounter obstacles in your personal life such as financial hardships or family emergencies.
If you’re overwhelmed or simply unsure if college is the best pathway to your future goals, consider the many reasons why taking a break from college might be right for you.
Here’s when taking a break from college might make sense, and how to do it:
When taking a break from college makes sense
Sticking with your initial academic plan — even if you feel it’s no longer the right path for you — could be a waste of time and money. Thankfully, you can always put your studies on pause, take the break you need, and re-enroll at a later time. If you’re encountering one of these situations, it may make sense to take a break from college.
You have a personal or family emergency
Life’s ups and downs don’t stop when you enroll in college, and unfortunately, there may be times when a personal emergency or family problem interferes with your semester.
Instead of trying to power through and maintain good grades at the same time, it may be best to take a break from college. Many college advisors have helped students through similar situations, and seeking assistance from your advisor could get you the help you need without negatively affecting your college record.
Your grades are slipping
Even students who normally earn high marks can see their grades slip during their college career. Whether it’s from a particularly challenging class or due to difficulties in your personal life, there’s no shame in earning a poor grade. However, if your overall performance is low and all your grades are slipping, it might be best to take a short break from your classes.
Consistently poor performance can lower your GPA and lead to academic probation, which could damage your academic record. Most importantly, it could cause you to lose your access to financial aid.
But if your grade is only slipping in one class, that doesn’t warrant dropping out entirely. Consider making additional time to study, hiring a tutor, or speaking with your professor about other options.
You aren’t sure if college is right for you
If you’re unsure if college is the right pathway for your future, you’re not alone. Taking a break not only prevents you from wasting money on courses, but also offers you time to identify your goals.
During your break, you can spend time clarifying what your future goals are and if a college degree will help you reach those goals. Keep in mind that other forms of education are available if a traditional four-year program isn’t for you. Some examples include trade schools and vocational schools.
You haven’t picked a major or you’re unsatisfied with your current one
Many students feel pressured to choose — and stay committed to — a major right when they enter college.
It’s important to remember that you don’t need to stick with your major, especially if you’re not happy with it. Taking a year off from school can be a way to collect your thoughts, consider your options, and reroute your academic path so that it leads to your desired career goals.
How to take a break from college
If you’re thinking about taking a break from college, follow these steps to make sure the transition from exiting one semester and returning to school at a later date is as smooth as possible.
1. Meet with a financial aid officer
First, it’s critical that you speak to a financial aid officer to discuss how any break you take will impact your eligibility for financial aid. Grants and other forms of aid may be withdrawn if you’re inactive for a period of time; some loans may require you to begin repaying them if you’re not currently enrolled. Discuss your thoughts with the financial aid officer to determine how your financial aid package will be affected.
2. Talk to your college advisor
After speaking with a financial aid advisor, you should also speak with your college advisor. Even if it’s your first time interacting with them since you first enrolled, they’ll still be able to help you assess your current situation and decide if taking a break is the right decision. If you’ve already decided to take a break, they’ll help ensure that you’re able to re-enroll when you’re ready and continue pursuing your academic goals.
3. File a withdrawal or leave of absence
Most colleges and universities allow students to take a leave of absence or withdrawal from their school during their program of study. For example, some leaves of absence are designed for students who plan on returning to school within one year, while some withdrawals are designed for students who plan on leaving school without intending to return.
A leave of absence will typically retain your position as an active student until it expires, while withdrawing may require you to reapply if you wish to return. You should discuss these options with your advisor, then fill out and file the appropriate form prior to taking your break.
4. Research student loan repayment options
Depending on the length of your break, you may need to begin paying back your student loans. It’s important to research your options and understand what you’re financially responsible for prior to your break. You could also discuss your situation with your lender and ask what repayment options are available for students pausing their education.
5. Find creative ways to continue earning credits
Although you’ll likely need to complete the majority of your degree’s credits through a college or university, you can find creative ways to continue earning credits while taking a break from college. For example, the College-Level Examination Program offers 34 exams, each with three or more credits. And the American Council on Education can help your training from a workplace or military translate into acceptable college credits.
Taking a break from college can help you focus on your personal life without completely disrupting your degree progress. Many universities allow students to carry over their completed credits for a number of years, even from different programs or schools. This can give you some peace of mind and flexibility to finish pursuing your degree when you’re ready.
If you decide to return to college later on and are looking for ways to pay for tuition and other costs, you have options. Credible is here to help you find the additional funding that you need to continue your college career. You can compare private student loan rates from our partner lenders and discover how you can affordably finance your education.
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