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Using summer time wisely

By: Ian R. McAndrew, PhD, FRAeS

It’s the time of year when college students pack up their dorms and return home for time with family, vacation, and many hours of sleeping. What do we academics suggest and recommend for this extended break? This blog is my personal view based on observing student behavior over 30 years.

There are three different categories of concern to us: freshmen who have completed their first year, sophomores, and juniors. 

Freshmen will have the experience of one full year. They will have time to relax and be proud of their achievements, rightly so in this case. Summer breaks for freshmen is a familiar recess that carries undertones of their high school breaks. I would argue that it is a period of rest and relaxation, with the occasional reminder that time passes all too quickly, precipitating the start of their sophomore year.

I have noted many times that those who do not have a relaxing break return tired, frequently finding the second year more difficult. A rested student will generally perform better. Tired students catch colds more easily, which stymies achievement.

Man resting in hammock

By the summer, sophomore students will still be only halfway through their degree and probably realize a mental break is “just what the doctor ordered.” It is easy to forget that we cannot learn non-stop and naturally get tired. Encouraging rest is critical for the last two years of their degree. Good luck to sophomores, and we look forward to welcoming them back to the junior year.

For me, it’s the students who have finished their junior year that I have the most sympathy for. They will have their long summer as others. HOWEVER, let’s be realistic. Most will graduate, and within weeks of graduation, have a job, career, and future. That means the number of days off will be drastically reduced to a fraction of what they have had up to now. Imagine the reality that summers are no longer a break that lasts a couple of months, but just like your parent’s break, limited to a couple of weeks.

In the United States, workers have some of the lowest levels of leave in the Western world, and summer break as a rising college senior might be the longest break until retirement. Have some sympathy and encourage them to rest – after all, it’s their last one for a while.