Consider taking a leave of absence

by Trinity Bland, Opinion Editor

As the semester is quickly drawing to a close, there is one thing all students can agree on: online learning has been a challenge.

I get distracted easily and sometimes have trouble verbally participating in class. I am more exhausted at the end of the day than I ever was with in-person classes and the motivation to sign into class on Zoom has long been depleted. Additionally, the lack of physical social interaction has taken a deep toll on me, to say the absolute least. 

Students cannot effectively learn online nor can they justify taking out student loans or paying full tuition to learn from home – especially if they live out of state or live in another country like a large part of San Diego State’s student population. 

It’s not worth it. 

Following the California State University’s announcement on Sept. 10 that the majority of courses will be held online next semester in addition to SDSU officials’ decision to cancel spring break and provide four “rest and recovery days” scattered throughout the semester in order to prevent another surge of COVID-19 cases, the university should have also reminded students of the option to take a leave of absence, along with the necessary steps to do so. This may be worthwhile for students, especially if they are not receiving the education they intended to receive while beginning their college careers. 

A leave of absence means you are not enrolled currently, but you do intend to re-enroll and return. Individuals will need to speak with their advisors and the registrar, but there is typically no penalty implicated. Students can take a leave of absence for up to four consecutive semesters at SDSU without having to reapply for enrollment and they must file for a leave of absence on the SDSU Webportal.

When students disenroll from classes, their financial aid is put on hold and they are not obligated to pay tuition fees. Their financial aid will reactivate when they re-enroll, which may be a sigh of relief for students who benefit from it. Scholarship policies vary, but some may require constant enrollment and can be retracted from students who take a leave of absence.

If students are struggling, regardless of the reason, they should be encouraged by the university to take time off and return under more optimal circumstances as well as stressing the psychological value a leave of absence can provide them. 

A graduating senior, who prefers to be anonymous, who took a leave of absence last spring and plans to graduate from SDSU this December, believes taking a leave of absence can improve a student’s mental health.

“Before taking my leave of absence, I was mentally and physically drained from having a full-time job and full-time school,” she said. “I tried multiple times to seek therapy in and outside of school to help alleviate the anxiety and depression but SDSU had limited resources that could allow me to get help while still on campus. Also, without a car, it got harder. However, once I was on a leave of absence, I was able to find time to seek help. I found that my biggest benefit from taking my leave of absence was that my mental health improved. It took the entire leave of absence and even the summer for me to mentally be prepared to undergo the stress of classes alone.”  

Although taking a leave of absence can be beneficial, it may not be financially feasible for some students. The graduating senior shared that money was a concern she had to weigh before making her decision.

“At the time my main concern with taking a leave of absence was whether I could afford to take the time off. At the time I worked on campus, and if you are not a student you can’t work on campus, even on a leave of absence,” she shared. “Not only did I have to find another job to pay for bills, but I also had to make sure the job was financially stable.”

Another concern students may have when considering taking a leave of absence is graduating later than originally anticipated. However, the graduating senior explained this was something she didn’t dwell upon for long as she understood everyone has a different timeline for graduation and still went forward with taking a leave of absence. 

Personally, I had a hard time watching friends graduate before me because I took a leave of absence. Aside from that, you never stick out like you would in high school,” She explains. “You begin to realize around the time you are graduating that there are more people graduating “late” like you. Something a professor told me early in my undergrad years that has stuck with me was that ‘college is meant to be enjoyed, why rush it’.”

Students have been asked to compromise their education and mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As online learning will be the new normal for the foreseeable future, students should consider whether or not the value of receiving a degree in four years is worth temporarily giving up the college experience. 

The college experience will not go back to “as it was before” and for some, this may be a hard pill to swallow. Higher education, taking into account the varying complications created by the pandemic, should be more vigilant of students and their valid strenuous circumstances.

Ultimately, the graduating senior is satisfied with her decision to have taken a leave of absence and how she is more rejuvenated as a student as a result of it. 

“Being someone who ‘never quit’, I was mentally torn on whether it was a good idea but after all of it, I am happy that I took my health into my own hands,” She states. “I feel that if I had not taken the time off, I would have failed out and never gone back.”

When you are able to function at your best, that is the best time to be a student. If you end up deciding to take a semester off from college, or longer, for whatever reason, it’s okay. Take precautionary measures to stay safe, listen to your body, and keep your mental health up to par. We are surviving a global pandemic and won’t receive a  spring break next semester. Taking a semester off from school never hurt anyone and is completely valid under the pressing circumstances.

Trinity Bland is a junior studying television, film and media. Follow her on Twitter @trinityaliciaa. 

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