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Student Tips: Taking a Semester Out

While taking a break from your course might seem like a great opportunity to travel or work abroad, the possibility of not returning is always a concern. Laura Addie recounts her own experience.

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A couple of years ago, I convinced my parents to allow me to take a leave of absence from UCD. After completing my first year of a joint honours degree in English and History, I wasn’t ready to face round two. First year was tough. The transition from secondary school to university was challenging, with none of my friends joining me at UCD, I felt the anonymity that comes with such a large course. I had also secured my first part time job, where twenty hours a week slowly crept up to forty and the novelty of full time wages outshone any remaining enthusiasm I had left for college.

I thought that if I took a year out to work full time and earn the money to fund my dream trip to Australia, I’d return to UCD the following year refreshed and ready to continue my degree. My family and friends shared their concerns with my plan, with all of them warning me of the pitfalls of a year out and the possibility of not returning to education.

I chose to ignore the advice and apply for a leave of absence, a process which does not have any effect on your GPA as it simply works on a pick up where you left off basis. My request was accepted and I followed through on my plan.

“Once you disrupt the routine of full time education it becomes increasingly difficult to break back in.”

Spending over a year working long hours as a waiter paid off and allowed me to fund an unforgettable trip to Australia the following summer. Yet when the trip came to an end, I began to have difficulty with the idea of returning to university and giving up my full time job. I decided not to return to UCD that September and continue working. This is where the danger lies with taking time out from college, once you disrupt the routine of full time education it becomes increasingly difficult to break back in.

However, as the months passed by I started to resent working hard without any third level education behind me, realizing the route I was taking was certainly a more difficult one. I missed learning and began yearning to return to UCD. I was permitted to resume classes in January.

Taking over a year out from university completely changed my perspective on education. After returning my grades significantly improved as well as the passion I had for learning. Perhaps it was the realisation of the purpose education gives you or the opportunities that come with a degree.

Taking a year out has both pros and cons. My advice is to really be honest with yourself on your reasons for wanting to leave. If you’re unmotivated and not quite sure what you want, it may be a good idea to put your course on hold for a while. Returning with a goal will allow you to work harder as you know what you’re aiming for. On the other hand, if you’re happy with your course but just looking to earn more money or travel, I’d suggest seeing your course through. You will have plenty of time to do these other things in your twenties and it’s not worth running the risk of not returning to complete your degree.

If you are interested in taking some time out from university, a leave of absence would probably be the best choice for you. It can be quite easily done online through SIS web, but first make sure to discuss your plans and seek advice from a student advisor. Further information on a leave of absence can be found at http://www.ucd.ie/students/leaveofabsence/index.html.