For some reason, it seems as if the more you pay for college, the less time you actually spend there. The majority of colleges and universities in the United States have a month-long winter break, about a week off in the spring—not to mention a long weekend in October and for Thanksgiving. Vassar students, however, has much more time off. Instead of a long weekend in October, we have about ten days off. Rather than just a month over the holidays, some students’ breaks are up to six weeks long depending on when their exams end. Our spring break extends for two entire weeks. As a result of these lengthy breaks, and depending on someone’s final exam schedules, some students are unable to leave campus for the year until May 22 and graduation isn’t until May 31 this year. While the time off from class is nice, it is unnecessary and often inconvenient to have such long breaks.
Because our breaks throughout the school year are so long, summer begins a few weeks later than for students at other schools. For example, final exams at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut end May 8 at the latest and at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, exams are finished by May 15. These dates may only be a week or two earlier than Vassar’s calendar, but that time can inhibit various summer plans. I happen to have my only final examination on the last day of finals, May 22. There is a summer study abroad program in London I am considering, but the only issue is that it begins on May 18.
If students are looking into internships, their employers may request earlier start dates than students are able to accommodate with their final exam schedules. Some professors are lenient and flexible in accommodating predicaments such as this, but some aren’t and this could be a roadblock in summer plans.
For students who aren’t pursuing study abroad or unpaid internship opportunities may be working to save up money over the summer. Having to stay on campus for a few extra weeks means that students are forced to give up those useful wages they could be earning if they were able to start sooner.
Vassar is one of the only schools I know of that has a week-long break in the fall. Most schools have a long weekend for Columbus Day in October and for Thanksgiving—and those are there only times off until the semester ends. While I appreciate having a lot of time off from classes after midterms, I think the length of October break is not essential. Many students who live far away from Vassar don’t want to waste the time and money to go home for a little over a week, but that also means remaining stuck on campus with not much else to do. For students who do go home and don’t have the opportunity to travel, this break does not coincide with other schools, so there aren’t friends home to hang out with either. Personally, a long weekend starting around Columbus Day would be much more convenient and valuable for my lifestyle and travel plans.
Unless a school has a winter term, such as Colby College in Waterville, Maine, or Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, it is customary for students to have about a month off after first semester’s end. Depending on when their final exams are over, Vassar students can have about six weeks of time off from school. Unlike with October break, since this break is between semesters, there isn’t even any schoolwork for students to get done over break. Some students are lucky enough to find short internships over winter break to get real world experience, but these are often only about a month long rather than the full six weeks we get because students at other schools are, at best, getting just a month off.
I am lucky enough to live within a few hours of most of my friends at Vassar, so I was able to see them a few times over the winter break. For students who live across the country or abroad, they aren’t able to see their friends for over a month. Most of my friends and I agreed that we would’ve rather been back on campus much sooner than have more time off. Also, much of winter break can be unproductive for many students. It is a great time to spend researching internships and other coming summer opportunities, but this does not usually require six weeks of our time. If other schools do have as long of a break, they often have a winter or January term where students have the opportunity to take classes and earn credits in lieu of going home. If Vassar chose not to shorten its winter break [eropd, this alternative would be very useful for students who aren’t able to travel home or for students who just want to be more productive and get an edge on some requirements.
For the amount of money we are spending to attend an institution like Vassar, personally I would rather spend more of my time here than at home. If October break, winter break, and spring break were made shorter, we would have a few more weeks to spend learning and studying, rather than feeling obligated to condense material into a few short months with long breaks in between. It is almost midterm time here at Vassar, and it feels to me like the semester only just begun.
—Sarah Sandler ’18 is a student at Vassar College.