The 4 things I wish I knew when I took the semester off

Long time no see, UVic!

After a little hiatus that involved some relaxation and some planning (and a little bit of crying… okay I lied, a lot-a-bit of crying), I can’t WAIT to get back at it into a classroom and see the sights and hear the sounds of UVic!

I had the chance to move back a few days before the semester officially began and had to run an errand on campus, and the feeling of being back was one of those moments that I didn’t know I’d miss so much until I was already there. Oh how I missed you, UVic!

ICYMI: I took a semester off after suffering burn-out. I wrote about it here back in August, but I made that decision to take the semester off without really knowing anyone else who had done it. So if you find yourself in the same situation as I was in August 2022, I want to share with you the 4 things that I wish I knew about taking the semester off, so you know what to expect or to see if taking a gap semester is the right choice for you.

#1: Consult the experts: your friends at academic advising

My semester started with a little trip. I thought that I’d be doing way more of these than I ended up doing.

Taking a semester off, let alone a year if you’re considering that instead, is a big decision that can have implications on your program timing. From things like managing prerequisites to co-op eligibility, there are more moving parts in your degree than you might think. A simple way to see your progress right now is by accessing your CAPP report*.

Better yet, UVic has a team of experts that help you navigate how a break could potentially impact your academic potential. They’re called academic advising, and they’ve shared with me a list of things that they can talk you through as you navigate through this change:

  • if your program permits taking time off
  • future course planning
  • your program requirements
  • potential impacts to course sequencing
  • how your Academic Standing will be calculated
  • whether readmission will be required after a break (depending on length of break)

Academic advisers have met tons of students just like you considering taking a break from courses, and by tapping into their knowledge, you’ll be two steps ahead by the time you return!

Learn more about academic advising for students in Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences. For students in other faculties, contact your faculty directly.

*For students who aren’t at UVic (yet), a CAPP report is also called a “Degree evaluation”. It’s a document that tells you what classes you’ve done for your program and what’s left for you to do before you can cross the stage.

#2: Dream big, but be practical

Starting my semester off, I had these big dreams that I wanted to accomplish: travel around the United States, finally get my driver’s licence, volunteer with different organizations, go to therapy. But as the saying goes, “days are long, but the years are short.” 4 months is a lot of time in the context of a year, but maybe not enough time to accomplish some of these life-changing-level aspirations.

When I put the time I had in perspective, I realize that I had to take each day at face value. Instead of asking myself “how can I change my life in the next four months?”, I asked myself “how can I positively impact myself (even if it’s in a small way) in the next 24 hours?”. That way, I don’t overwhelm myself with these huge dreams and occupy myself with things that I can’t control.

#3: FOMO is real: take care of yourself

I have learned to enjoy solo company on this gap semester. I mean, I kind of had to: something I wasn’t prepared for (which is kind of silly in hindsight to have not immediately recognized) is that chances are you are one of, if not the only person in your friend group in your hometown that is taking a gap semester.

You might fall into a trap of comparison or have an overwhelming sense of FOMO, thinking that others are successful and that you have “failed”, but when it comes to it, the only person you’re competing with in life is yourself. I’m not particularly proud of the things that led me to taking a semester break because they were completely preventable, but I’m proud that I took the break while I could.

#4: Be prepared to learn, even when you’re not in school

Don’t think that just because you’re not enrolled in university classes that you get a pass on learning for a few months: to live is to learn, and I’ve been doing a lot of living. Whether you’re interested in learning a new, practical skill on this “down time” or if what you learn is on the more abstract/existential side, hopefully having some university experience has taught you that learning just doesn’t quit!

To those who have taken a semester off, you know how scary that ferry ride, plane trip, or drive back to your college town can be when you return: it’s a mix of adrenaline and nervousness, optimism and fear.

Would I recommend a semester off?

It’s hard for me to generalize all students whether or not they should take a semester off “just because you can”. But as a litmus test of sorts, if you’re considering taking a break from school to take care of yourself or to reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing and maybe seeing what other opportunities lie in other fields of study or career, as long as you feel as if your heart is in the right place, it might be time to consider taking a semester off.

Once you’re back, there will be some lifestyle changes that you’ll have to make: in my case, I haven’t been in a classroom in 8 months and diving right into 3xx and 4xx level courses is reminding me about riding a bike all over again… and falling down. Again and again and again. But when I’m falling off a bike, I’m glad I’m doing it here.

Remember that you are never alone when considering a decision like this: UVic has a whole host of counsellors at the Student Wellness Centre and resources and remote after-hours support through our student assistance program, SupportConnect.

I can’t wait to keep blogging with you, UVic!

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