How do I spend my leave of absence from university?
December 14, 2014 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I can finally put my mind away from school for about 8 months, but I feel like these 8 months will be the critical period and my last chance to gain a sense of what I want to do.

I'm a college junior in a school notorious for its academic and competitive environment. With two weeks left in the semester I decided to take a leave of absence from this and next semester, and I will return in Fall 2015. For the past two years the amount of academic stress kept building up and up - somewhere down the line I became extremely depressed and anxious and recently it caused me to have a major mental implosion (to summarize it very lightly anyway). I knew that there was absolutely no way I'd be able to finish the semester ok and if I tried I'd have finished with a series of Ds and Fs across my classes so I believed it was for the best.

Now that I can put my mind away from academics for about 8 months, for the first time I feel free to explore my life and figure out what to do with it without being locked into a single career (medicine). The thing is I don't know how to spend my time. I'm looking for off-campus housing as close to campus as possible, but I'm not sure how to make use of my unoccupied time because I've spent so much time studying (with less than stellar results...) that I've never made the time to make many friends on campus.

My current plan is this: 1) work part-time at my current research position, which will net me about ~$620 per month; 2) find another source of income to cover the rest of rent+utilities (about 650-750) and food; 3) prepare for summer internships (I'm worried though, because my transcripts will show this semester's classes as Ws and that I'm not sure how companies respond to a leave); 4) pick up a new style of dance (maybe contemporary. Not sure of the price of this...); 5) continue being involved with the cultural dance troupe as well as the non-profit organization that I'm with now.

A main concern I have is that even though having no academics will be less stressful than however packed my schedule will be next semester, I feel like I need to use this time to figure out what to do (or at least know what I definitely don't want to do anymore). I guess what I'm asking is how should I modify my current plan, and what are some things I should do to maximize this time off?
posted by JYuanZ to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you'll find that landing and then doing that second job to cover your costs of living will fill up your time more than adequately.
posted by Andrhia at 12:16 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, two jobs and a dance hobby will keep you plenty busy!

Maximise this time by enjoying it - take the pressure off yourself. Just do the two jobs and dance and learn to just be. Learn to cook. If you can, take a little time to travel or go on a camping trip. Relax.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Much of the advice you will be getting from people will be about the specifics of making a living.

When ever I have been this stressed out due to school or work, making a plan to be out in nature every week away from the computer / phone / people etc has always helped me recharge from burn out.

There's something about a long walk with nothing to do in nature that makes all the threads ranging in my mind clear up and plans come together.

Good luck with your time away from university.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Recreation. Healthy, relaxing, non-goal-oriented recreation. Learn to recharge and then figure out how to balance recharging with work/study.
posted by Schielisque at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2014

Put some energy into making friends with whoever seems coolest in your dance troupe/ nonprofit/ job/ what-have-you. From a practical standpoint, one of the hardest parts of figuring out what you want to do when you grow up is identifying what things are out there to do. Over the long term, watching the paths your friends take will help you figure out where you want to go yourself. Of course, there are many impractical benefits to making friends, too ;)
posted by yarntheory at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2014

Wait, why are you staying in town? You need to travel.
posted by yarly at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Along with learning to relax as other people suggested, I think you should consider doing something to address your anxiety and depression. Even if you feel like these were mainly related to the pre-med workload/direction and are currently relieved, in the future you want to have the coping skills to recognize these kinds of problems/symptoms and deal with them way before you get to the meltdown breaking point. (Possibly therapy, develop your friendship network, figure out if you were avoiding your problems, learn to see your symptoms sooner)

Academic career services (look at other schools along with your own) have a lot of resources that could help you figure out what you want to do- usually there is some kind of self assessment- what do you like to do, what are your skills/strengths, then identify possible career paths and find out more about them, and then you can make better decisions about how to get to what you think you're interested in (informational interviews etc). I would block in some time in your schedule to do this stuff and break it into very small achievable concrete items that you can do, because "figure out what I want to do with my life" is too vague and it would be easy for you to be very busy otherwise and avoid it entirely during your leave.

Also I want to reassure you that most likely this is not your last chance for career decision making even though it might feel like it. Your college experience and degree can matter to some extent for the first couple of years out of school but plenty of people go back to school in different fields or otherwise change careers midstream and wind up in jobs unrelated to their undergrad and that is OK, not a terrible thing or failure. Anecdotally a minority of the people that I know are really really into their jobs and KNEW that they were going to do xyz, and a fair number wound up with reasonable job satisfaction doing stuff only tangentially related to their degrees- they're not less successful than the people who knew what they wanted to be.
posted by tangaroo at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2014

Yeah, I'd be Wwoofing or building houses with Habitat for Humanity or Doctors Without Borders.

Or, try the Disney College Program.

There's no magic bullet that in this time you'll sort it out. You may end up more conflicted. Some times we just learn what we DON'T want to in college, figuring out the corollary can take the rest of your life. You have to learn to be okay with not feeling 100% about everything before going balls to the wall on it. The more mature you are the less sure you are about anything.

So go out and have some experiences. See what you enjoy versus what you're good at.

Nthing see a doctor (if you're not already) about depression and anxiety. 20 is about the age when we all started noticing that we were afflicted. Husbunny had his first depressive episode, I had my first panic attack. Yay!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:13 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Came in here to say that you really need to travel, have adventures, explore the parts of yourself that thrive when you're not on the college-aged overachiever bandwagon. You can retake classes, get fancy summer internships, and apply for the same summer research grants (or whatever) your classmates are applying for now, next year. The academic pressure cooker sucks. You mention medicine as a career; if you're anything like a lot of the pre-med smartypantses I've known (many of whom I've really liked--I'm not snarking on them!), there's a pipeline straight from college to med school without any time off to experience "real life." Fuck that. Fuck chasing after MCATs and getting meaningless volunteer hours you don't genuinely care about, because they look good on your applications. Spend three or four years after college working at a nonprofit, or teaching English in China, or finding out what it's like to go on a bicycle tour across the United States, or hitchhiking around Ireland, or whatever. You'll be smarter and more well-rounded if you have more experiences outside of your comfort zone, and if you do end up going into medicine, you'll be a more caring and thoughtful doctor. Plus, four years of med school and another few years of residency won't seem so oppressively geared to quash your very soul. You don't need to figure out your entire future right now; lay off the books and the self-betterment as a study regimen and figure out how to have fun and love yourself, and have some really amazing adventures while you're doing it.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:57 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

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