Jarred Stancil: Struggling students should consider a year off school

Like many students, I have faced personal challenges while also being a GW student. For me, things came to a head in the spring of 2015 when I fell into a state of depression. I was overwhelmed by my classes and eventually stopped attending them altogether. My sleep schedule was erratic and, I left my room less frequently. During that time, I realized that coming back to school in the fall maybe wasn’t best idea for me.

Taking time off from school isn’t usually people’s first instinct when they’re going through tough times. And when I decided it was necessary for me, I was shocked by how many people questioned my decision-making. A few of my friends asked why I would take time off during what otherwise would have been my senior year, instead of just powering through. My mother was concerned about any financial consequences. Several others thought I was putting myself at a disadvantage by graduating a year later.

But I ended up taking a year off. And during my time away from GW I learned that the idea of finishing college in four years is a perspective that is unique to our culture, and it’s not always the right one. Students whose mental health is taking a toll because they are overwhelmed should know it’s possible to take a year off in the middle of college. They can take time off and return stronger and better off. For me, removing myself from an environment with constant stressors allowed me to focus on my own well-being.

Anyone who is thinking about taking time off should know that they can have unique, rejuvenating experiences that will likely make them more prepared to tackle stress back at GW. During my year off, I spent time in Europe involved with a group called Students for Liberty that promotes student political activism by organizing conferences for students to network with high-profile political figures. I met people and had experiences that are invaluable, and I made connections that will last a lifetime. The experiences I had during my time off have made me a better student and made me more prepared for the future. I couldn’t have had those experiences during just another year at GW.

While I was in Europe, I learned that large proportions of European students finish their undergraduate degrees in more than four years, often taking time off in the middle to volunteer or travel. And nobody bats an eye if a student takes time off for their mental health.

The concerns that my family and friends had about my taking time off didn’t end up being problems. GW locks in your tuition rate for a period of five years, so somebody who takes a year off won’t be affected by spikes in tuition. Furthermore, anybody receiving federal aid can receive it for up to six years after enrolling in college. So you don’t need to worry about losing any need-based aid.

And when considering a year away from GW, I spoke with a clinician at Mental Health Services who very clearly outlined what I needed to do and walked me through the whole process before I made my decision.

GW is a stressful environment. But those students who are struggling can take a breather if they need it. The time spent away from campus can make students better prepared to tackle the challenges of school and life, in general. People may raise concerns, but don’t forget the most important factor to take into consideration is one’s own mental health and well-being.

Jarred Stancil, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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