Rachel Sadoff - Team Prep USA Client Alumi
Rachel Sadoff is a Team Prep USA Client alumni who originally wrote this article for Tab.com (see the original article here).
‘You’re taking time off? Is something wrong? Are you OK?’
The Race to Graduate
When students stray, there can be consequences. Those who push ahead or fall behind might seem try-hard, lazy, or disorganized. To leave one’s graduating class and build a life outside of college can be daunting, complicated, and isolating. This sociology keeps us focused and on-track, but creates an unnecessary stigma for those of us who operate differently.
As Danny Manning, a junior at Harvard, points out, self-reflection and gratitude are also threatened by this rigidity. “Most kids our age have been on a path since their first year of school,” he writes. “Always having to look to the next step prevents you from appreciating the accomplishments and memories made thus far. Taking a leave forces you to step off this path, lending some much-needed breathing room and an invaluable perspective.”
A Growing Trend
“In the U.S., taking time off or travel, experience, or simply rest, was long considered an indulgence, where in the U.K. for example, it has been slightly more of an expectation,” according to Adrienne Green, writing for The Atlantic. “The increasing popularity of gap years in the U.S. could signal increased efforts to combat the workaholic culture that has proliferated at elite American higher-education institutions.”
One cause of this growing trend may be the increasing need for mental health treatment, as well as corresponding academic accommodations. For struggling students, Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services offer thorough screening processes to help determine whether a leave of absence (and, later, a return to campus) is right for them. Even for those without clinical issues, though, leaves of absence can encourage emotional hygiene and career exploration, promoting both long-term mental health and a more enriching academic experience when they return.
Social media has given my peers a rare soapbox to share their transitions. Through Facebook and Snapchat, I have seen how and why many other Harvard students are taking leaves of absence. Some virtual sign-offs have clear goals, like foreign travel or physical recovery, and others are sweet and personal – proud goodbyes to buzzing libraries and study pills.
Learning to Thrive
For those of us who can live with parents, friends, or relatives, a leave of absence might allow for unpaid internships, or an opportunity to save up for the costs of college social life. Strict concentration requirements may limit our curiosities during the semester, but on a leave of absence, minds are unhindered: we might audit classes, build startups, try art or cooking, and so on.
Taking a leave of absence from Harvard may have felt like the hardest decision of my life, but that was because I thought I was alone. Friends, readers, strangers – it is never too late to stop and reflect in the hyper-stimulating world of college. And if you do, know for certain that you are not alone.