Fall semester is too long and unforgiving. Students need a fall break.
Students make collages at a mental health awareness event on Feb. 27, 2018. (Julia Lerner/The Diamondback)
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
At this point in the semester, it feels hard to breathe. There’s always a midterm, a project or an assignment. And that’s just the academics. Factor in clubs, exercise, having friends and simple self-care along with a two month stretch until Thanksgiving break, and it’s no wonder students’ mental health is fragile.
If the University of Maryland really wants to be an institution that puts its students’ mental health as a top priority, it can’t rely on mental health fairs, the Counseling Center or stress relief dogs: it needs to implement a fall break.
A fall break at this university would provide students with a much-needed rest from schoolwork. In 2018, 87 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by everything on their plate. With the fall semester beginning in late August and going at full force until Thanksgiving, there’s little opportunity for students to get relief from school.
While there’s a lack of time to relax between the start of school and Thanksgiving break, there’s plenty of time for burnout and frustration. Fall break would change that. Effective studying mirrors what a fall break could do. You work for a chunk of time, then take a break to reward and refresh yourself for the next study block. A fall recess would work in a similar manner, giving students the burst of energy they need to finish the semester strong academically and mentally.
For some students, fall semester is the first time they’ve been away from home for an extended period. Homesickness, combined with intense academics and adjusting to being on your own, can be incredibly hard on students’ mental health.
As an in-state student, like 74 percent of undergraduates, whenever I’m homesick I simply go home. Out-of-state students don’t always have that luxury. However, with a fall break, students who can’t normally go home are able to see their loved ones and take some time for themselves.
Not only would a fall break be good for mental health, it could potentially have professional benefits. Because of its lengthy winter break, this university’s school year ends later than some other institutions. Next semester, the last day of classes is May 12, with final exams lasting from May 14-20. Some summer internships and jobs have starting dates before the end of this university’s academic calendar, putting students at a professional disadvantage.
Instituting a fall break wouldn’t be revolutionary, nor would it be a time crunch. Other universities, both public and private, place fall break somewhere in the middle of October as a long weekend or full-week recess. Simply shave off a week or two of the university’s extraordinarily long six-week winter break, have an earlier start and end date for the spring semester, and calendar space suddenly frees up.
Students at other universities with shorter winter breaks are still able to take classes during that time. This university could shift to a three-week winter program similar to the one it offers in the summer.
If the university instituted a fall break, it would force a change in the calendar, which could end the school year earlier. This would put the university in line with other schools that have final exams in late April and finish by early May. The new calendar shift caused by a potential fall break could open up more opportunities for students.
The mental health resources this university provides are impactful for some students, but not for everyone. Not everyone is aware of resources such as the Terps Take Care Fair or wants to schedule an appointment at the Counseling Center. A fall break would be a solution for all students by providing the rest and renewal necessary for the final stretch of the semester.
There’s no way around the onslaught of work the college experience entails, but there are ways to make it more manageable. A fall break is the mental health relief students need and deserve.
Maya Rosenberg is a sophomore journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.