Taking The Semester Off From College : Is It Worth It?

Are you struggling to sleep at night because you’re thinking about how much money you owe? Has studying 7 days a week stressed you out completely? Are you thinking about taking the semester off from college?

Studenomics is all about helping you find the answers to your problems. I don’t judge. This is why I put together the most detailed post possible on taking the semester off from college.

Taking the semester off from college

[Full disclosure: I first wrote about this topic all the way back in 2009. Since then, article has picked up a ton of traffic and comments. I wanted to take the time to highlight some of these comments today and to add to the discussion.]

What are the reasons in favor of taking a semester off from college?

Pay down your student debt and save up.

It’s easy to judge and say that taking a semester is a waste of time but what about if you’re one of those students that are forced to fund their education through loans? Some students are fortunate enough to have their parents subsidize all of their education costs, but if you’re all on your own and stuck with all of the costs then don’t let anyone judge you. Do what’s best for you and if you truly feel that you need to pay off that student debt a little bit because it’s growing to a ridiculous level, then do so.

[Must read: How-to save 25k by 25.]


Each college program has its own level of intensity and difficulty. If you feel that the stress is affecting your health in a negative way then take some time off to allow your body to recharge. Think of the many long term benefits of allowing yourself to prevent mental burnout.

Work in the field (or a closely related field).

Some fields are difficult to get into so if you want to get ahead of the competition then you should try finding volunteer work or an internship in your field of study for a semester. Not only will you gain valuable experience but you’ll have some nice qualifications on your resume. Some programs also have peak periods where it’s easier to find work.


There’s nothing wrong with working to make money and change your schedule up. You also get a feel of the “real world.” I’ve seen friends find work in construction and then promptly return to college because they wanted more.

You’ve lost interest.

This can happen to anyone and in fact has happened to me before. One semester I had so much going on in my life and the courses were so bland that I simply lost interest. I stuck it through to the end and passed all my courses but when it was all said and done I regretted not taking the semester off.

When you’re not focused and passionate about something then what’s the point of lying to yourself? If you’re not happy studying the subject, chances are that you won’t enjoy working in the field for the rest of your life.

What are the issues with taking time off from college?

You might not return.

We all have that one friend who left and never returned. I don’t want you to regret not earning your degree just because you made the decision to take one semester off and you never went back.

You lose focus, steam, and care.

When you leave school, you forget about school. You’re out of the system and it’s easy to lose focus. When you’re making money the last thing on your mind is the idea of sitting in a classroom.

What did the readers have to say about taking the semester off from college?

Ever since this article was published, we have heard from parents and students.

Wendy wrote in with:

“As a parent, I was at first really angry to hear my son say he wants to take a semester off from art school. He’s anxious and depressed and not really sure about his major/degree. His art school is expensive and he has scholarships, loans and help from his parents.

Some of the factors he hasn’t considered are that the tuition always goes up, he may lose his scholarship, and I’ve already budgeted to pay for this year. I do understand that he may need time to reevaluate his degree, and I respect that choice. My biggest hurdle with the decision is that I don’t think he’s dealing with the core issue – anxiety – by taking a semester off. I’m trying to stay positive and listen carefully, so we can come up with the best decision for him.”

Alexa seemed a little confused with:

“I’m planning on taking next semester off as I’ve come to realize that I’m no longer motivated in the major which I’m studying now. I want to take it off to figure out what I really want to do with me life. A lot of people say that I’ll never go back, or I’ll be so far behind. Another thing that concerns me is that I’l lose my insurance by taking the semester off.”

Adrian was totally stressing out:

“I’m having the same problem. My school isn’t a bad school, it’s just me having problems figuring out what I really want to do with my life. I’m currently in my second semester of my freshman year as a graphic design major and I couldn’t be more unhappy. I love art, but apparently its next to impossible to get a decent paying job in art and graphic design isn’t necessarily something I’m interested in. I honestly just picked graphic design because it was the only major my college offered that kinda interested me. Now I’m thinking I should take the rest of the semester off to reevaluate what I should do with my life and possibly transfer to a different college or an online program. So confused and stressed right now. Thinking about class on Monday is literally making me sick.”

Steve jumped in with:

“I told my folks that I’m going to take a semester off and they literally flipped and now everyone’s blowing up my phone talking about how it’s a bad idea.

Only 1 of my friends actually told me to do what’s best for me and my parents fail to realize that.

I’ve been so stressed with school, I’m depressed almost all the time. Not to mention I got a scholarship after coming from a bad university and ended up losing it that same semester. I’d rather try to pick up a job and pay for school myself rather than take out any more loans. The more people try to force me to go back, the worse I do. At least if I have a job, I can have my books early and really come in enthusiastic about learning and trying to get ahead.”

Philip was more optimistic:

“I think there are a lot of people like me that took off a semester or two, whether they wanted to or not. For me I changed my major and school during that time off and came back wanting the degree I was working towards as opposed to before just going after a peice of paper. Now it has paid off greatly and worked out well for me.

It would be good for some students to take a chance to re-evaluate their interests and reasons for college and where they think the degree will take them in the 30 year future.”

Is it okay to take the semester off from college? Should you just power through to enjoy life after college?



  1. says

    I’m a big proponent of taking a semester or a year off if there’s a reason for doing so, although I suspect I’m in the minority. Higher education isn’t something to rush through or just a hurdle you need to pass before “real” life begins. If your goal is to get it over with asap, you’re probably missing out on a lot.

    My cousin recently asked me about taking a year off- her parent’s almost flipped when she suggested it, saying “If you stop, you might never go back!”. My response was “So what?” There’s no point in pushing forward if you’re burnt out or unsure about your chosen field. If you want to return, you’ll return. If not, you’re better off for it.

  2. Sarah Jones says

    I am in college now and just don’t feel fully happy. I don’t know what I want to major in, and am not a fan of my classes. The lecture halls are boring and I could actually not care less about 3 of my classes. I just don’t know what to do about next year, if I should transfer or take a semester off then transfer. I go to Indiana University and I just don’t love it. I feel like it’s difficult to get involved with theater without being a part of the BFA program or a theater major and I just feel kind of lost here. I have a couple good friends but mostly am acquaintances with people. I don’t want to leave then regret it because I do like some aspects of the school: the Hillel center on campus (JEwish Student Union), the town of Bloomington, going to parties :) but it is very Greek dominated which isn’t what I wanted or was expecting. I don’t know where the right place is for me and am kind of confused. Any advice?? Thanks so much!

    • Toby says

      **Skip to the bottom to get to the advice if you don’t wanna read my story”

      I was in the same boat and I sorta still think I am. I commented on here a few months back about how stressed I was and I still am. My first university was in the Middle of nowhere in Arkansas. It took 3hrs from my hometown to get there so I just stayed on campus. I hated it there. they treated us like kids and it was so cheap that I hated it there. the food was bad, mold everywhere, no cameras etc (it was an old HBCU). after one bad semester I packed up my things and left and went to my home school the University of Memphis. I instantly loved it there. I don’t party at all but I instantly loved the campus life. at my old school there were hardly any good looking girls. At UofM, u would see one every where you turned. the school was more technologically advanced (nasdaq tickers in the halls, flatscreens, a huge library, better food, etc-I could go on). After 1 semester there I ended up being so stressed that I took a semester off. I failed Trig and Survey of world regions and lost my scholarship. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I wish that I stayed at the Arkansas university. The work was easier and studying actually paid off (at UofM I have no free time and always have to study and I’m still failing trig. If My teacher gives me an F, I’ll have to pay for it again myself or I’m gonna be ~2yrs behind my major if I don’t take it and pass. If I would’ve stayed at the HBCU I would’ve passed easily.).The workload is so heavy that I haven’t even been to a sports event, attended any campus functions, or even visit the cafe more than 2x since I’ve been there. Then not to mention it is so hard to socialize at this school because (not to be racist or anything), the school is mostly white. At the HBCU I made at least 10 new friends in addition to the friends that I grew up with in Elementary school. At UofM, when I’m in class, most people act as if they don’t even want to collaborate with me in group efforts. Like for example, I can do good work (I was #2 in my HS class), but when a teacher tells us to do group work, the white students will try to do it all themselves and barely get your input on anything. They will huddle together and try to do it all and tell you to just sign your name on it.At the HBCU, I never had this problem. As a matter of fact more people leaned on me in group efforts. The teachers even liked me sorta.The entire atmosphere here feels as if a lot of people (not everyone) think they are better than you. I even asked on numerous occasions in my economics class if people wanted to join me for a study group (this would lighten our workload and we all could have free time to do other stuff). Everyone looked at me and said no they had other things to do etc (basically they were lying and making excuses). Nobody there wants to do any studying with the blacks (because some probably guess we’re all lazy or w/e). The japanese kids stuck with each other, and the whites did their thing.anyway I’m passing econ and they are failing and now they try to ask for help on tests, which I refuse to do. I still have an offer up to come study with me in the library but no one comes. Then just last week I got mixed in a group for my Japanese class. counting myself there were 4 black people in the group, 1 korean, and 1 white guy. Guess who tried to take over? The assignment was due yesterday. I was finished with my part 2 weeks ago. The white guy in my group told everyone in the group he was going to do all the work. Just email him our stuff and he’ll take it to kinko’s and print it off. so….everyone leaned on him and the closer it came to the due date, no one had anything but me and the white guy skipped our class on an important day to go to english, as if our group assignment (a final assignment) wasn’t important. I took it upon myself to steer everyone in the right direction, but only 1 group member participated. I told everyone to give 2 forms of contact, email and phone. only 1 person did that. Anyway we scheduled to meet in the library the next day and I told everyone that I would be in class during the time but text me the location and I will be there. only 3/6 of us showed up. We waited until I said forget them let’s get to work. We just so happened to see the white guy sitting off in a study room by himself and try to do all the work himself. He talked down on all of the black people in the group and tried to degrade MY work when I was the only person who submitted it. He got mad because he wanted to copy my list of sentences to make the cards but I put an American “.” instead of a japanese “?”. I had to put him in his place. Everyone was content with the guy talking trash to them but me. He tried to do the entire assignment on his own the night before by himself and it was cool to everyone else because they wouldn’t have to do anything. He shot down my card designs (which were better than his, the usage of the wrong period,etc). he kept talking to me like I was dumb because he used a $1000 corel draw program to design our cards. He actually told me “you may have never heard of it, it costs $1000 to replace. It pissed me off so bad I wanted to hit him (at my old school I designed all the school flyers and party banners, I have 6+yrs experience in graphic design and 3d modeling, but I don’t know wtf corel draw is? he was mad because I used a free software and designed a better card layout). So I asked my group members in all honesty why they would let him sit there and talk down and not stand up for themselves. Nobody said a thing. I submitted my part and left. I refuse to work with racist people. I asked EVERYONE to email ALL 5 OTHER group members their work so we would all have a masters list. He didn’t want to participate at all. I asked him 2x and he just looked at me as if he didn’t trust me or wanted me to see his work. I got work from everyone the day before but he didn’t email me until 7am on the day of the assignment, and class was at 11. He tried to sabotage my part of the assignment (Luckily I emailed the instructor the night before and alerted here).He wouldn’t call and let any of us know where the meeting location changed to, he wouldn’t respond to texts, he skipped out on us to do something else on an important class day, but on the day of the assignment, he could finally “find our numbers and call”. Anyway the next day when class started, the group only had half of the work. Every other group was well prepared. Dude went to kinkos and printed cards with grammatical errors, some were missing, and some cards didn’t even have the required picture. Then he had the nerve to tell us that those were all his cards (who didn’t see that coming?), if we wanted our own copies, pay him and he’d give us a personal copy (he tried to sell us a copy of our own group assignment wtf?). when the teacher told us to get up and present, I told her that I refuse to take part in the presentation. I told her the situation and the attitude he had, and how even though it was a final project grade how I refused to kiss his ass like everyone else was doing. I set aside my trig work for a week just to give this group work priority, I couldn’t really afford to do that. However, I refuse to sign my name off on anything “half-done”. I either do it completely or not at all. He was shocked to see that I wouldn’t do the presentation with him. (I felt good afterwards for taking a stand).

      before you change schools, weigh the good and bad. Are you making money there? (At my old school I made 300 a month cutting hair, at my new school I haven’t made a dime. Also internships are harder to come by).I understand about being an undecided major but do something that interests you. I was a beast in english and science in high school and everyone wanted me to be a teacher, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to do it in a long-term situation. I took up computer science. I love tech and I’ve always been good with computers. If you major in something that you are really interested in, you will do so much better and gain more self confidence when the A’s roll in with little effort.If you transfer, you may or may not get new friends, and you may end up being in a couple of racist situations like I did at the new school. Most schools are greek dominated (some more than others), that’s just a part of college life. At my new school there are hundreds of thousands of greeks, but they are more modest than the ones at my old school. At my old school the guys there only went to school to get Greek Letters and when they did they acted like they were intangible. Also, how will this affect your financial aid? Will you get new scholarships? better internships? Lecture halls are very boring, I won’t lie. If you know that you are too bored to listen, do what I do and record the class. I either use my ipod or turn on my laptop mic. that way I can just pay attention later. Also consider the work load you will take on when you transfer. My new school is toooooo demanding. I dropped 1 course and still have no free time. right at the end of march and start of april, I had 19 tests and quizzes to complete in 2wks, on top of doing hw/cw on time. I know my grades dropped in some classes because of this. I’d never taken that many tests before in such a short period of time. And these weren’t even the hard classes. If you know for sure you want to leave, make sure that you at least take a campus tour and talk to teachers and students or see if you can sit in a class there.

  3. Tay says

    I’m considering taking a semester off for college. I just know my family will probably cut ties with me or remind me how much a failure I am. I’ve been so stresses out with school it caused me to be so depressed. I make decent grades but I seriously just need a break or I’m going to end killing myself. I have a job that I love and its what keeps me going. I work with children as well as the ederly and my goal is to obtain a degree to work with special needs. Unfortunately my school doesn’t offer a degree for that. So I’m considering transferring, finding something online, or maybe taking one of two courses. I really just want to finish up and be done then maybe my family will actually tell me they are proud of me. But at this rate I don’t think I can

  4. says

    I got a lot of attention for taking a semester (ish) off. I “dropped out” of film school, started a blog, and that wound up getting some media attention for such. And yes, I got a lot of “I’m just worried you won’t go back…” from friends and family. I feel like I got it double, because my brother left school a few years earlier, with one semester left to go, and didn’t go back. So there was a precedent in my family, and it made everyone look at me under an extra level of scrutiny.

    A few things worth noting:

    1) I had trouble finding a job. After I took my Leave of Absence (which is the best way to do it, if your school has such a thing, since you can prevent losing scholarships and grants this way), I applied for lots of jobs. But my family lived somewhat in the middle-of-nowhere in a Rust Belt city that was (and is now still) more economically depressed than other places. So despite having work experience and half a college degree, I never even got a call back from any of the entry-level or retail jobs I put in an application at. Eventually I managed to start making money online, from my own blog and doing some virtual-assistant type work. But it was not the boon to my finances that I had been planning on.

    2) It did, however, give me the time and distance to figure out my feelings on my major (film). I worked with the Multidisciplinary Studies department at my school to find a way to come back that wouldn’t lose me any credits by starting over in a new major (film, and most art credits in general, don’t transfer – not even within the same university, and especially not to another). Having left school in December, I was able to go back to the same school in September, and graduated a year and a half later – completely on-time for the amount of time I took off.

    3) My degree has only marginally helped me in my career since then. (I graduated in 2009.) Surprisingly, the blog I started when I dropped out still helps me in job interviews to this day. Every single job interview I’ve ever gone on has asked me about my personal finance blog. It helped me get a consulting position out of school that turned into full-time work, and then a promotion (all within a year), which kickstarted my whole career. Of course, I’m certain that having the piece-of-paper degree thing was a factor in all of this, too… but only as a checkbox on each employer’s list. My personal project has always been far more interesting to employers than the fact that I took business and marketing classes… even when I was applying for marketing jobs!

    • says

      So awesome to hear from you! I remember reading your blog back in 2008. I was recently wondering if you were still around. What else is new with you?

      • says

        I’m still around! Somewhat. 😉 Got laid off from my “dream job,” got married, had a few jobs that didn’t work out (including becoming a licensed Investment Adviser Representative for a short time last year), ended up with one freelance gig last year that’s turned into a full-time plus side hustles for both me and my husband. In other words: a whirlwind that basically explains why I haven’t had time to write. Hoping that I’ll be able to get back to updating the internet on my crazy adventures, and dipping into personal finance suggestions… soon. 😀

  5. Becky says

    I’m currently in my first semester at Winthrop university and I have to say it really sucks. I only came here to begin with because my art teacher suggested it to me since it has a respectable art program. Since I had no idea what to do with my life, and still don’t, I went along with it and come here. The first semester is almost over and I am now completely certain that art is not my thing. I do really well in my classes and have had a few pieces in shows, but the constant anxiety that goes along with trying ti find something after college with a fine arts degree finally won. I also lost my passion and interest in the subject.

    I’m now looking into integrated marketing communications but I’m extremely stressed out about making the wrong decision again and wasting another semester.

    I keep blaming the school for making me hate it here but I can’t help but think that I’m just too stressed out to really enjoy anything here. I also don’t like drinking or partying so it’s been difficult to make a friend group. I’m really considering taking a semester off or even transferring to a different school but I’m so afraid of being left behind and losing my scholarships.

    I’m basically only making it by with loans right now so making money during my time off would help too. I’m aware of how difficult it is for freshmen to adjust to college and that a lot of them go through some kind a depression during that time, so I’m not sure if that’s why it’s been so difficult. If that’s the case then maybe things will get better later on?

    I’m so torn between toughing it out just to get through it (because i really hate college right now) or if I should look at other options.

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