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Need a break from attending lectures, studying for exams and writing papers? Has spending some time away from Harvard crossed your mind? Taking a semester or a year off from college is an option you might want to consider.
Each year, many students decide they need to get away from academia. For many, Harvard's classrooms are not fulfilling their needs.
"Harvard can really be a stressful place," says Christopher A. Thorpe '97-'98. "I just wanted to get away and relax."
Thorpe, who used some of his time off to hold an internship at Microsoft in Seattle, says the non-stop demands of school work were difficult.
"Even though some people might think a job at Microsoft might not be relaxing, when you're a Harvard student you're always working. There's always a paper to do," Thorpe says.
Thorpe says he liked not having to bring his work home with him when he worked at Microsoft.
Other students also felt drained by the daily rigors of college life.
"I was feeling a little burned out about academics," says Jason R. Morton '98. Morton is leaving this week for Los Angeles where he will work as an intern for the Carie Woods Entertainment Co.
"I want to work in the movie industry. It seems like a good opportunity," Morton says.
But the allure of Hollywood isn't the only thing that made Morton decide to take leave.
He also had concerns that classes weren't fulfilling his needs.
"I wasn't really learning a lot," Morton says.
Jennifer 8. Lee '98-'99, a Crimson editor who is taking this year off, had similar concerns.
"For me, college is a place where you're supposed to learn. It wasn't happening to me in the classroom. 'To teach' means 'to show.' 'To lecture' means 'to read.' It seemed to me that I was being read at, not taught," Lee says.
Filling Their Time
Getting away from Harvard is not, however, a solution in itself. Students must find a way to make the experience worthwhile and productive. While this may sound challenging, it is not reason for alarm. Students have found many ways to get the most from their time off.
One popular way students fill their break is to explore future job opportunities.
Richard Lee '96-'98 used his experience abroad to help him decide a career path to follow. Lee spent four semesters in Korea, first translating speeches for the Minister of Finance and then later performing mergers and acquisitions for an investment banking company.
"I was trying to decide whether to go into academia or business," Lee says.
But the job students work at during their time off does not necessarily have to be related to the field they want to pursue after they graduate.
Although Jennifer Lee spent her time off working for an investment banking firm and doing Web design, she actually plans to be a journalist.
"All my summers have been doing journalism-related things," said Lee.
Lee added that if she did not take time off, she would not have had time to get experience in another field.
Although taking time off may seem like a good idea, students often have concerns about the prospect of being away from the College for so long.
One common worry is that it will be difficult to readjust to college life after returning to Harvard.
"I'm a little worried," Morton says. "I might be a little out of it [when I get back]."
Some students interviewed did have trouble readjusting.
Thorpe recounts that he didn't fit in as well with dorm life when he got back.
"It didn't appeal to me as much. Watching movies, partying, playing games lost a lot of its appeal after I'd been working for a while," he says. Thorpe says he moved off campus because of these changing interests.
Students taking time off also worry that not graduating with their class may be particularly difficult. For some, it is.
"It was different," says Richard Lee. "The people I knew were sophomores. They're seniors now."
But some who have taken time off have gotten around this problem.
Jennifer Lee says that she considers herself lucky to have been sure of her concentration early. Because of this, Lee was able to take advanced standing and fulfill several concentration requirements during her first year. Thus, despite taking time off, Lee will be able to graduate with her class.
Still others worry how taking time off will look to future employers.
"There's a misperception that taking time off is a cop out," Jennifer Lee says. "But the default action is continuing school. Taking time off actually shows employers that you don't always go with the status quo."
It's Worth It
Despite the drawbacks, most students who have taken time off say the experience was valuable.
In fact, spending time away from Harvard actually made many students enjoy Harvard more once they returned.
"I think when you come back you appreciate a lot more the opportunities here," says Richard Lee. "You're not as stressed out about things. I'm enjoying my classes for the first time. I can equate these classes with real world applications."
Jennifer Lee says she believes her time off will also help her be more successful at Harvard.
"I've learned so much more what my priorities will be when I get back to Harvard, extracurricularly and academically," she says. "It's really nice to be able to get that when you still have time left at Harvard."
Thorpe says his grades improved when he came back to Harvard after his first semester off. "In many ways I felt better adjusted," he says. "I was more able to get my work done. I had a better focus."
"I treated classes like a real job with real deadlines," continues Thorpe. "The thing about classes is that nobody really forces you to be successful in them. Microsoft is intense. If you don't succeed, there is a lot of pressure and they make sure you understand how to get things done. That was extraordinarily worthwhile."
Morton says he hopes he will benefit from his experience in the same way.
"Hopefully when I get back I'll care more about my studies and learn more," Morton says.
Morton says he is already seeing the benefits of taking time off. Not having school work to worry about, Morton has been able to devote more time to activities he enjoys.
"Almost immediately I read the first book I had read for pleasure since I came to Harvard."
Overall, students interviewed say they are glad they took time off.
"I would suggest it to anybody," says Richard Lee. "Looking at seniors now--seeing how they're fretting away--I'm glad I had the experience."
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