When to Take Time Off From College

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Taking time off from college should be viewed as a last resort, but if your student is considering it, make sure that they are doing it for the right reasons and for the right amount of time. There are plenty of valid reasons, ranging from the personal to entrepreneurial aspirations, to take time off from college. Students can often pick right back up with their academics, and in some cases, they won’t be billed for the semester or year taken off.

However, it’s a big decision to make as it will potentially delay graduation, could interfere with consecutive coursework, or if your student decides to take time off too close to the start of school, they may be charged for a semester in which they’re not even attending school.

Make sure your student deliberates long and hard before making a decision, and have them air their ideas with family, friends, or a school counselor who can objectively suggest whether or not they do it.

Personal or family concerns

Taking time off from college to handle personal issues or major family problems is perfectly okay. Colleges will almost certainly be understanding, and your student can pick up right where they left off when they return. Although things generally tend to work out academically, your student should avoid taking off for longer than absolutely necessary.

A semester off is ideal, but a year is doable, should your student’s personal circumstances require that amount of time. Colleges may not allow them to remain a student if they take off for any longer than a year, though, so if they’re planning on taking a longer leave of absence they should contact an administrator.

Although it’s understandable to take time off for personal or family reasons, ensure that your student is not making a spur of the moment decision that they might regret later on. If they experience a loss in the family, as devastating as it may be, will taking time off from college make things easier for them or the family? Or will it only create more problems?

If they’re feeling extremely stressed, taking off may not always be the right option. See whether regular counseling sessions, dropping some clubs or sports or lightening their schedule in any other way, could potentially help them. Again, taking off from college should be a last resort. If there is any way they can handle their personal or family troubles without taking time off, then encourage them to pursue those alternative options.


Plenty of successful startups were created by college students, but juggling academics and an idea for the next big thing can be nearly impossible. If your student has the resources, a concrete business plan, and the growth of their company or product necessitates a short leave of absence, then they can consider taking time off from college to nurture their idea.

But be warned: with business, they must be completely certain of what they’re doing before putting their education on hold and diving straight in. If they don’t have a clear plan to execute over the course of the semester or year that they take off, capital, or even an idea, then they should stay in school for the time being. Encourage them to talk to a mentor, like a business professor or entrepreneur they know, and see what they think of taking time off school to grow their business.

If your student does decide to take off school to focus on their business, they need a clear plan in place for returning to classes. If they intend to finish college, then it’s important to have a transition plan. They can’t expect to simply drop most of their business responsibilities as soon as classes start up. They could appoint a successor, find a way to put the business on hold until graduation, or do whatever else is necessary. Just make sure that your student knows how they’re going to get back to school when the time comes.

Career opportunities

Chances are your student won’t be offered a job worth ditching college for, but they might stumble across a career opportunity worthwhile enough to take time off school. If they’re passionate about politics, it might not be a bad idea to take a semester off and work on a campaign (ideally as a field organizer or in a similar position, not just as a recurring volunteer). If they land a fall or spring internship that’s too good to pass up, again, taking a semester off might not be a bad idea. Just be sure that the opportunity is completely worth taking off school for.

A word to the wise: if your student is taking off school to pursue a career opportunity, it should probably be related to the job they want after graduation. If they want to run for public office, taking a semester off to work in an art studio may not be the best idea. Make sure there is a clear connection between the opportunity they’re taking time off for and their future career.

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