Staff Editorial: Adding a J-term would give students more opportunities

Media Credit: Illustration by Lauren Roll

Imagine if last week had been the first week of classes after winter break. Right now, students and professors alike would just be settling back into campus after a two-month-long break – and that paper or group project wouldn’t be due for another couple weeks.

For as far-fetched as this might seem, it isn’t completely out of reach. Plenty of schools, including three of GW’s peers, have a January Term, or a J-term – a winter break that extends through the end of January. Not only does a J-term give students a little bit of extra time to relax, it also gives them more time to be productive. GW should seriously consider adding one to its future academic schedules.

After lobbying from the Student Association, GW announced last semester that it will add a fall break in 2016. That shows the University’s willingness to adjust its schedule if students push for the change.

“Currently we are not exploring options for an extended winter break,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email. But the University is always open to recommendations and feedback about the academic year, she said.

Changing the academic schedule to add a J-term makes a lot of logistical sense. The dates of students’ December finals determine when their winter break begins, meaning some start up to a week earlier than others. Adding extra time to the break would give those students with late finals more time at home. It would also help to ease the pain of travel expenses: Spending two months at home, instead of as few as three weeks, would likely make students feel better about spending the money to get there.

The biggest benefit of a J-term, though, is the time it gives students. While there’s a chance some students may waste those two months, most of them would have the opportunity to be productive. Two months is a lot of time to waste.

Students could get ahead on course requirements over a J-term, too. Since many students have plans to graduate early or spend an entire semester abroad, taking courses during a J-term could be a cure-all. If GW were to offer accelerated in-person courses in January, students could opt to return to campus and get ahead on their credits – or catch up.

Southern Methodist University, a peer school, has a J-term and a May term to give students extra time for accelerated courses. These “mini-terms” let students complete three credit hours in eight days. And students there took advantage of the chance to get ahead: This past January, more than 500 students were enrolled in 39 courses, according to SMU’s website.

Having a break in January means more opportunities for study abroad and community service. Some Alternative Breaks, for example, could be extended, or the program could add more options later in January. At New York University, a peer school, students can enroll in a short-term study abroad program in January, which means they can travel to places like Shanghai and Abu Dhabi over break. While GW does offer short-term abroad programs over winter break, students would have more time to explore if they could spend an entire J-term in another country.

Perhaps most appealing to students would be the ability to pick up an internship during a J-term. For the second year in a row, GW was ranked as the best college in the nation for internships – and giving students the chance to intern during January would give the University even more bragging rights. GW would be the only private institution in D.C. to have a J-term, giving students a competitive edge to landing short-term internships in D.C. during this time period. Students would likely jump at the opportunity to add yet another line to their resumes, and maybe even pick up a couple new references.

And for those students who have part-time jobs, especially back home, a J-term is a great opportunity to earn a little extra money. It’s unlikely anyone would hire students just for winter break, but if they were home for two months, it’s certainly a possibility. There are also some seasonal positions out there, and even just a few extra weeks of babysitting could bring in a lot of cash.

There are also mental health benefits to giving students time off in January. There’s no relief until spring break, usually scheduled for mid-March. Almost two full months of school can be overwhelming, and exams and papers start very quickly once students get back to campus. When the SA pushed for a fall break, it cited mental health as a reason why some students would benefit from the time off – having a J-term would be just as effective.

A J-term isn’t just helpful for students either. Departments at GW receive grants and can receive government subsidies when their professors do research. If faculty had extra time in January to do research – and maybe even hire students to help them – they could spend more time focused on students and themselves during the semester.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Extra time off could shift Commencement further into May, and midterms might fall into place later, even after spring break. But those small changes would be worth it if students used their J-terms well.

Having January off doesn’t mean students would spend two or three weeks watching Netflix. At a school like GW, when everyone feels constant pressure to improve and do more, a J-term would be a welcome opportunity.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee, assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer and managing director Eva Palmer.

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