Students See Benefits and Downsides to Semester Off

Experts Say Time Off Not Likely to Affect Job Prospects


Ian Christie, FCLC ’11, took a year off from Fordham, first for an involuntary medical leave, then to work on the Obama campaign. He says the semester off motivated him to graduate so that he could get back to work. (Jon Armenti/The Observer)

Published: April 30, 2009

An article that appeared recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution touted the benefits of taking time off from college to do volunteer work or travel. At Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), more students take time off for medical issues and, especially in the current economic climate, financial troubles. Experts say that leaves of absence can be beneficial if taken for the right reasons.

Yasmine Kamel, FCLC ’11, is currently taking a semester off for financial reasons.

“Time off has helped get my head on straight and have better sight of my priorities,” Kamel said. Although Kamel said that she didn’t choose to take the semester off, she realized that there is “a silver lining to the situation.”

“It was nice having free time for the first few weeks, [but] then I started getting bored,” Kamel said. She said that her sleeping schedule has changed and that she tends to sleep until the afternoon. “I assume this lack of structure will make it more difficult to get back to school.”

Ian Christie, FCLC ’11, took two semesters off, the first being an involuntary medical leave and the second when he joined Students for Barack Obama.

Christie explained that he contracted malaria after working in Sudan and was then forced to take a leave of absence.

“After I stopped having to go to the ER every other week, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, as I made the jump from Students for Barack Obama to the full campaign as an intern in the New Hampshire primary, which resulted directly in my being hired, which prompted me to take the second leave of absence,” Christie said.

Kat Muniz, FCLC ’12, said that she is afraid that taking a semester off would increase the chances of dropping out of college.

“The commonly touted fear is that ‘Oh no, you’ll never go back to school!’” said Christie. “I don’t think taking a semester off can be deemed a catalyst. If anything, it made me want to get my degree faster so that I could actually get back to doing real work.”

Lin Kennedy, FCLC ’12, said that she feels she would not take a semester off because it would slow her down.

“The cores here [at FCLC] are intense and extensive,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll forget how to get back into the habits of school.”

“It certainly takes the luster off college when you realize, sometimes in a pretty harsh manner, that neither the college education nor the college experience count for much in terms of preparing one to excel in a competitive working environment Christie said.”

“Taking the time off from school, in my case, changed my life drastically. I began my career in earnest, came back to school, and then changed my major,” Christie said.

Statistics on the number of FCLC students who take time off were not available. Olga Ramirez, executive secretary at FCLC’s Office of Residential Life, said that students at FCLC usually take a semester off for medical leave and for financial reasons, and less often for traveling.

“They are guaranteed housing, but there is a chance that they are going to be on the waiting list,” she said. Ramirez also said that although these students are on the waiting list, they still have first priority over commuters at FCLC.

Christie explained that Fordham allows for up to two semesters during which a student may take a leave of absence, though the student’s reasons factor into their ability to receive housing upon return.

“I dealt with Dean Graham and the whole process was somewhat akin to withdrawing from a course,” he said.

Karen Casingal, assistant director of career services, said that taking time off will most likely not affect a student’s future job prospects.

“It is all on how you present yourself in an interview,” she said. “They can’t fault you on taking the time off.”

Elaine Gerald, assistant dean and director of admissions at FCLC, said that students generally don’t have to worry about how taking a semester off of school would reflect on job applications.

“The world of work is not interested in what the transcript says, but what the person has to offer,” Gerald said. Gerald said she feels the reason why a student has taken a semester off should weigh more than just the fact that they took a semester off.

Gerald continued to say that some students take a semester off to be in a different learning environment that is nonetheless constructive, but other students make take off due to the frustrations and stresses of college.

“If you had an A average, but couldn’t control the stress, then you probably wouldn’t get hired,” she said.

“Each student has to make that determination [of taking a semester off] on his or her own,” said Christie. “I will say this though: if you have an exceptional opportunity of any kind that would require you to take a semester off, do it and don’t look back. School will be there, but you never know what sort of opportunity you’re passing up.”