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Taking a Semester Off: How to Avoid College Work Ethic Atrophy

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Taking a semester off of college is not an uncommon thing for college students. The danger comes when the momentary ease of regular adult life in contrast to what is demanded of you in college seem so much more fitting that you never go back. When in reality, the illusion of adult life being ‘easy’ is just that—an illusion.

When we aren’t working the muscle of motivation, it is interesting how our initials incentives to finish what we start waste away. I call it work ethic atrophy. I’ve noticed in myself recently that little accountability in things causes me to shrink back in efforts and get by at the last minute with the bare minimum. So don’t be fooled by the lies of laziness. If you choose to take a semester off, make sure you heed the following advice if you want to enter back into college full swing post-sabbatical.

Make a Deadline

I am a deadline person; I respond well to them only because I am artistic in nature and prefer that excuse to justify why I live life in messes. Deadlines help me focus and be attentive to my priorities. In a circumstance where a college student decides to take a semester off, the routine of basic living, working, traveling, or remaining in a vegetative state on the couch can blur the priorities of finishing school. A hard, uncompromising deadline can force the student to maintain a “still in school” mindset.

Have a TO-DO list

There are many different legitimate reasons why a student would want to take a semester off—traveling, interning, avoiding a broken relationship, or caring for a family member, etc. Students threaten the existence of their college degrees when they choose to take a break from school for no other reason than to “just not go to school.” Thus, it is best to have a plan. If you take a break, ask yourself, “What is my reasoning” and “What do I plan to do?” This keeps you focused and working the muscle of motivation rather than playing XBox by night, sleeping by day, and eating somewhere in between.


The perfect bow-tie to my 3-tier college break plan is accountability. Broken down, accountability encompasses three concepts:

1. Accountability = Answerability: There must be someone that can help spur you on and press you to go forward with college once the nice semester break has taken its toll on your college work ethic. Whether it is your parents, a professor, or friend, having people to answer to plays an essential role in accountability.

2. Accountability = Liability: So much is at stake in when you break from your decision to finish your college education. Loans, job opportunities, etc. Keep in the back of your mind the benefits of continuing your education and the cost of never going back when you just want to stay home and find a job making a little money.

3. Accountability = Responsibility: In a nutshell, it is the basic principle of starting what you finish. Not finishing may feel good for a second, that momentary ease, but soon an unsettling feeling of guilt and regret will settle in. A huge part of being responsible and showing future employers (who would ask why you never finished school) is to push through to the end commitments you have made. College is a commitment.

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Frank Addo over 8 years ago Frank Addo

Great article. Very well put.