Why universities should quit adding more breaks

The last thing students need is fewer days on campus


Student Samuel Okwudili at the University of Winnipeg (Marianne Helm)

For the first time this fall, a majority of Ontario universities have scheduled a break from classes in either October or November. Students have been pushing for this over the past few years as a way to improve mental health and several schools, from Ryerson to Western, have given in. The idea is that a fall break will help students cope with the high workload of university, leaving them less likely to get stressed, depressed or anxious.

A break may indeed temporarily lift spirits and improve mental health but further diminishing the amount of time they’re expected to show up may also make it harder for them to cope in the long run—especially if they get full-time jobs where they’re expected to show up five days a week.

Showing up to the same place at the same time each day is a skill and it’s one that universities aren’t taking seriously enough if they think they can drop even more days from their schedules.

University is already one of the few parts of life when we aren’t expected to show up to the same place at the same time most days. In high school, students get up and go to class every morning, usually by 9 a.m., for at least 194 days per year. If they work full-time hours all summer, they’re showing up for 40 more days. That’s a total commitment of 236 “showing up days” annually.

With university, the 9 to 5 workday habit starts to fade. A typical second-year student will have classes spread over three days. Those with fall reading breaks have as little as 24 weeks of classes. Add in exams and the typical student need only drag herself to campus for 80 days per year. Add 60 at a summer job and she’s reporting for duty just 140 out of 365 days.

That means students are in for a shock if they get a full-time job after graduation where they must show up 240 days a year (assuming two weeks vacation plus holidays). They suddenly have 90 fewer days when hitting the snooze button is an option. That’s the type of reality check that can derail mental health. (Try asking any boss for a fall break to combat stress and see what happens.)

It’s true that students are expected to write essays and study during those 90 days when they aren’t working or in classes but the truth is that many don’t. A study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found U.S. students spend an average 27 hours per week on classes and homework, which means that, unless they’re volunteering or working for pay, their average work week is three days long.

Ask students to name their biggest problem and many will say procrastination, a vice that leads to feeling worthless, which leads to the very mental health problems we want to prevent. Allowing a few more days each fall when students can sleep in and play PlayStation isn’t going to help that either.


Why universities should quit adding more breaks

  1. Yeah, this is pretty stupid. We should be attending more school not less. If these students aren’t able to cope with university workload, they shouldn’t be in university. Once they start working, there is no break, life continues.

  2. This article seems to minimize what many students put into their post-secondary education. Yes, procrastination in many students is a problem, however the greater problem in students lives today are the rising rates of depression, and various mental health issues on campus which can be aggravated and increased by stress levels at school. Dehaas says that “many don’t” do essays and study outside of class. Sure, and those students are the one’s that drop out or flunk out. But the students that are here to work and succeed, put in countless hours outside of the classroom to better understand the work that is done inside the classroom. I would argue that many students put in more hours into their education alone then they would a full time job. In some programs such as engineering or science, classes will go from 8 to 5pm, and then students will spend their evenings in the library studying and writing. The workload for many becomes overwhelming, along with other work commitments that they have to help pay for education. With the rising cost of tuition, more and more students have to work jobs at the same time just to stay in school. With the workload, social relations and physical health often get neglected, leading to various health issues.

    Also I find it insulting that the author insinuates that students will be in for ” a shock” with the hours that are required of a full time job. Students are aware that university life, and life in the “real world” with a FT job are two different things entirely. Students are adaptable, and our education will help prepare us for these positions. It’s not a reality check, it’s expected.

    Mental health is becoming a much more talked about issue in society and many employers are taking mental health much more seriously.This author needs to do the same.

  3. I completely disagree with this article. As a student, I have about 20 hours of class a week, I work 15 hours a week, and study for 20 hours outside of classes and work. That’s a total of a 55 hour work week (excluding my volunteer work). Plus, during exam week, I have to study more and that becomes a 80 hour work week at times. During the summers, I work 50 hours a week (7 days a week) to pay for my education. I may not be the norm, but lots of students balance work, school, and other commitments. That fall break is very much needed but unfortunately, it is only 2 days at Western and one of which is on Halloween and another on a Friday, which most students don’t normally have class.

  4. I completely disagree with this article, too.

    I am a university student (in zoology) and attend class and my labs for 20ish hours a week. This does not take into account studying, report/essay writing, and other homework time…which easily is 7 extra hours per class per week. And I am considered a ‘part time’ student! I find I barely have the time to eat properly and get a good night’s sleep.

    And, unlike those that work 9-5 jobs in the ‘real world’, we do not have weekends off. Its the opposite, the weekends are the time where I have the most opportunity to study and catch up on anything I’ve fallen behind during the week. There are no ‘true breaks’ for university, besides Christmas break and after April exams. You are constantly studying, getting caught up, and doing work.

    Speaking as a student from a university that already has a fall break, especially around this time of the year, a break after (or just before) midterms is really helpful both mentally and emotionally. Also, as a student with a disability, I am thankful there is a break or else I would have had a mental breakdown. I still do work during the break, but there is less pressure.

    Granted, some students slack off and do not do work during the break…but those are the ones that do not do well, may drop out of school, or do not get into grad school. It is unfair to paint all students with the same brush.

    I’m sure most students are very aware of the ‘real world’ work world and that you have to show up at the same time every day. So what?

    This is a poor excuse for an article, and a very poor argument against the addition of the fall break. Obviously the author of the article is not aware of the rising rates of depression and chronic anxiety disorders amongst university students.

  5. I agree with what everyone has posted above. the reading week for most is only about 3 days and is very much needed. I go to class for about 20hrs a week, volunteer for 7hrs, work 25hrs, commute 3.5hrs A DAY ….. most of us barely have one day off and those that do are very limited. definitely an ignorant article.

  6. This particle paints an effective picture of students as lazy and hanging around all week with nothing to do, but the 80 school days per year is very misleading. Even if a student were able to

  7. The rule of thumb when I was in university was that you needed to study 3 hours at home for every one hour of lecture. If we include that into the calculations, a students 15 hours of lecture per week also includes 45 hours of study time. Also not included is mandatory tutorial sessions, and labs which in a heavy science program can add another 15 hours per week between completing lab sessions ans writing reports. That looks to me more like a 75 hour work week, which no one in their right mind would be jealous of.

    As a student I looked forward to working a 9-5 job, that I could leave at the office and not worry about on weekends. I majored in physics, and my life post-graduation is absolutely leisurely compared to my workload at university. Yes I slept on Tuesdays in university, but I also put 10 – 12 hours of study in on the weekends. I never went to Cancun on reading week, I worked my butt of using the time I was given to make sure that I was successful on my midterm exams.

    Students (those who intend to be successful) must focus intensely on their subject matter for very long periods of time and have near continuous pressure of balancing exams, assignments and other commitments.

    Please do not begrudge students one week to catch their breath. They more than deserve it.

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