When students start their college journey, they don’t really think about what could go wrong. The general plan is to finish a degree in four or five years, get a job, and start life. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan.
“I’m graduating from the college in May. I started the nursing program in fall of 2019,” McKenzie Seaux said. “I actually have a job lined up already at the hospital I work at. I am a nurse intern at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed, and I got an offer for a job on the ortho-neuro trauma unit. I start in July and I’m so excited.”
Seaux is on the verge of completing her lifelong goal. However, things didn’t always look bright. Just a couple of years ago, Seaux was debating if nursing was even right for her.
“Initially, I started at KU hoping to get into their nursing program,” Seaux said. “I ended up completing all my prerequisites and not getting into their nursing program. I was starting to feel the stress and I was feeling defeated that I hadn’t achieved what I started. For some time, it really did affect my motivation. That’s when I decided to take a year off to relax and find a program to apply for.”
Stress or mental health can be a reason for why students decide to take a break. At least, it was for Deja Jordan, a student at the college.
“Mental Health was the biggest reason I decided to take a break,” Jordan said. “I was struggling a lot especially because I’m from Topeka originally and I moved down to Lawrence by myself at the age of 18, but I didn’t live in any of the dorms. I had an apartment off campus, and it was hard adjusting to a move to a different city while also working full time. I was trying really hard to get good grades and also making sure all my bills were paid on time. After a semester, it was just becoming too much for me to handle.”
“The counselors at KU just advised me to join Black Student Union. My [KU] teachers were surprised when they found out I took a break because I had been doing so well in class,” Jordan said.
The college does provide personal, emotional or mental health counseling for anyone going through difficult situations. There is also a referral service in which the college will pay for a student to see an outside therapist for five free sessions.
Even if Jordan did not find the help she needed at KU, she did find help through taking a break from college.
“That experience of taking a year off was liberating,” Jordan said. “I was able to focus on my mental health and just not deal with so much stress.”
Seaux also experienced many benefits during her college break.
“I had more time to spend quality time with my friends and family,” Seaux said. “I got to experience a lot and traveled to Chicago, Colorado, New Mexico without having to worry about deadlines. I also finally got time for things I enjoy like playing guitar and drawing.”
Even though taking a break can have many benefits, there are some things students need to watch out for if they are planning on coming back.
“One of the cons of taking a break is forgetting some material,” Bailey Sosa, a counselor, said. “If you take accounting one and take a year off, accounting two will be more challenging when you return. Students should not fear that all their academic records will expire, once it’s on your transcript, it’s on your transcript. However, some selective admissions programs require certain class credits to be within the past five years. So, students who plan on entering a selective program might have to do more planning.”
For both Jordan and Seaux, the last thing they had to think about on their break was how they were going to pay for tuition. While taking a semester or year off can be a great way to save money, students should still consider how it’s going to affect their financial aid.
“If a student is offered a scholarship for the full academic year and let’s say they received the scholarship in the fall and decided to not attend in the spring,” Ashley Jost, Coordinator Financial Aid Communication Manager, said. “However, we automatically allocate those funds to other students who are eligible, but we also encourage students to let us know if they plan on taking a break.”
The college awards millions of scholarships every year. April 1 is the priority deadline for the college’s scholarships awarded for the upcoming academic year.
“If a student is offered scholarships for the upcoming year and we see they aren’t enrolled in the fall, we take that scholarship away,” Jost said. “In this situation, students may miss out on scholarships for the full year because we can’t guarantee they will get any if they do come back in the spring,”
On top of scholarships from the college, students can also receive scholarships through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
“FAFSA is a little bit different,” Jost said. “When it comes to eligibility, the federal government and the college keep track of how much they have received. There are federally mandated limits on how much a student can receive in federal financial aid. When it comes to the Pell Grant, there is a certain number of years they can receive it. If a student is eligible based on their FAFSA result, they can receive the Pell Grant no matter when they turn in a FAFSA. So, if a student is eligible in fall and decides to take a break for spring, that won’t do anything to not make them ineligible as long as they apply again for the next year. A student will have six years of studies to receive 100% of the Pell Grant.”
Another current way student receive aid is through loans.
“The biggest thing about student loans is if a student takes a break but they have already obtained that loan, they could enter a grace period,” Jost said. “A grace period gives students six months where they don’t have to pay. After six months, they would have to start repaying their student loans and interest will start occurring on their loans. All this can be confusing so it’s important students talk to the financial department to know how taking a break will impact them financially.”
Even with everything planned out, the feeling of self-doubt can start to creep in. In an age where college seems like a requirement, both Jordan and Seaux experienced a certain level of guilt and disappointment for the radical choice they took.
“I never could really get past that feeling of like is there something else I’m supposed to be doing right now,” Seaux said. “I kind of felt bad about not being in school and I didn’t want my parents to think that I was like becoming a college dropout who’s not really wanting to pursue a degree.”
“Since I was always taught in school to never take a gap year, I felt guilty when I did and ended up not telling anyone,” Jordan said. “When I finally told my mom, she told me it’s ok to take a break since everyone has different situations and was understanding of how hard the switch can be. I wish they would tell that to students in Topeka.”
Taking a semester or more off from college is an uncommon decision. It is normal to for students to have thoughts like how it will affect them academically, will they return, or even if it’s the right thing to do. These were the thoughts Jordan and Seaux had when they made their decision and it turned out to be a decision they would not regret.
By Yohannes Girma