The semester has barely started and some students are already wondering whether they should be in school.

They aren’t feeling motivated to study. They don’t like their classes or they like their classes okay but still can’t find the time or energy to do the assignments. They sleep through their alarm clock. Even if they do get to class, they nod off or forget to take notes. They report feeling anxious or depressed or overwhelmed or sick or just all-around miserable.

Why, they ask, are they in school? What’s the point?

There are times that asking a question implies the answer. If you wonder if it would be a good idea to take time out from school, you probably already know the answer. You know you aren’t being the student you could be. You know you are wasting a substantial amount of money. You wish you could find the motivation and ambition you once had but now clearly don’t. It’s probably time to take time out.

Taking a break doesn’t have to mean you are giving up. A break is just that – a break. Sometimes there are good and respectable reasons for taking a year or two or more away from academics. College won’t go away. Your credits usually won’t evaporate. Going home doesn’t mean you are stupid or inadequate or crazy. There just may be other priorities or other issues that make leaving school a smarter, wiser idea than staying in.

5 Good Reasons to Take a Break

  • When you’re not sure why you’re there. College these days is an enormous financial investment. If you don’t have clear goals, it’s reasonable to ask yourself why you are taking loans and using up your parents’ savings to be there. A “gap year” program or a couple of years of work experience might help you set clearer goals for yourself, including your goals for your schooling.
  • When you find you’re unprepared for higher-level work. Sadly, not every high school adequately prepares its students for college-level work. Even if you got all As you may not have the education you need to compete at the college level. If you find the work too challenging, it may well be that the problem isn’t your IQ. You may not have the fundamental information and skills needed to understand the material or to express yourself adequately in writing. If that’s the case, it makes sense to take time out to take some remedial classes at your local community college or to get a tutor to bring you up to speed.
  • When a family crisis distracts you. Some people are able to compartmentalize their life at school from their life at home. But many more can’t. If someone you love is fighting cancer; if your parents are going through a divorce or are in some other crisis themselves; if one of your siblings is in serious trouble or ill or a much-loved relative has recently died, you may find it difficult to concentrate on classes and assignments. It might be better to go home than to be constantly distracted by worry or overwhelming feelings of loss. Feeling helpless to help or feeling guilty for being away isn’t going to do much for your GPA. Take a semester to put things in order or to feel like you’ve done what you could and you’ll do much better when you return.
  • When you are making a major life decision. Big decisions sometimes need all of our attention, not a distracted part of it. The decision to marry or to break up, the decision to change your major when you’ve already invested three years, the decision to leave school and to take a big opportunity instead – whatever life-changing matter is before you may matter so much that you need time to figure it out without academic demands pulling for your attention.
  • When you are so stressed out by school that you are miserable. If the idea of studying gives you a panic attack; if the thought of going to the library makes you so depressed you can’t leave your room; if you get no joy out of reading the materials or listening to the lectures but only feel scared, anxious, or generally irritable, you may be in no shape to take on school for now. By all means, talk to your teachers and take advantage of any counseling services available to you. Sometimes a little help can send someone in a more positive direction. But if every attempt at getting help isn’t helpful, maybe you need to go home to take stock, to get involved in some therapy, or maybe just to mature a little more before starting college.

Know Yourself

Yes, there are some people who can manage 18 credits, active participation on a varsity team, a lively social life and a deeply meaningful love relationship without missing a beat. Good for them. Would that everyone was so lucky. But many people need to take life in smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be seen as a failure or as a character flaw. Different people are just different.

If you do go home, use the time wisely. It’s not a time to hole up in your old bedroom feeling sorry for yourself and sucking your thumb. It’s a time to rest, regroup, and reconsider your options. Get some experience, training, or remedial education. Get a job and pay down some of your loans or save up for your return to school. If time management was part of the problem, then get some practical coaching. Depressed or anxious? Get yourself into counseling to learn better coping skills. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be in a better position to decide when and if higher education is for you.

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