OPINION: Are shorter breaks or longer breaks better?


Hailey Stessman

Can an altered academic calendar greatly affect a student’s semester experience? Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

I vaguely remember crying after I emailed my final paper to my professor last semester. I was exhausted, sleep deprived and in desperate need of a hug. Despite the mental, and sometimes physical pain, nothing compares to the immediate relief that comes from finishing all of your finals. Throughout the duration of the previous finals season, I was talking to my friend who attends the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL). But in contrast to my panicked hysterical state of studying and writing papers, he was enjoying a warm cup of tea on his porch while journaling– the embodiment of relaxation.

UNL ended the fall semester on Nov. 25, right before Thanksgiving. The shortened semester, consisting of no breaks, was implemented due to the risks associated with COVID-19 on campus and in the community. UNO, however, decided to keep its usual semester plan by holding exams the week of Dec. 14 with the normal mini breaks, such as fall break, throughout the semester. In August, and even now, I wasn’t too sure where I stood with the academic calendar.

While I did appreciate the small breaks sprinkled throughout the months and a longer period to finish assignments, I am incredibly dissatisfied with how quickly winter break flew by. By now, there has been a universal understanding that the pandemic has completely altered our perception of time and the passing of the months. It seems as though I blinked and it’s already the second week of January.

Even though my responsibilities drastically decreased once my final paper had been submitted, I still felt as though the burden of school was weighing heavily on my shoulders. I didn’t feel relaxed. Perhaps the fast approaching return to school was looming over me and it was pointless to let go of the mindset of a student in the middle of her college career to take a breather. But when I reflect on my fall semester experience, I vividly recall the panic of not being able to complete all of my projects before my assigned deadlines, despite the elongated semester.

So, the question stands: Is a longer semester with multiple short breaks or a shorter semester with an extended break better?

When speaking with my friend in Lincoln about his shortened fall semester, there were some mixed feelings. He enjoyed being able to take a proper break, but he was also aware that he would not be able to afford falling behind in his assignments, due to the shorter semester and more imminent deadlines.

Especially in a pandemic climate, periods of rest are crucial for one’s mental health. Both formats of a shortened and a normal semester each have their pros and cons. Would I rather overexert myself to finish all my assignments knowing I have a longer period of time to recuperate, or stay at a normal pace, still with the risk of falling behind, knowing I can have periodic breaks throughout the duration of the semester? Is it worth it, and if so, at what cost?

No matter what you prefer in terms of your semester plan, breaks are a necessity even if it seems as though you don’t have enough time for one. You deserve to rest. I hope that both universities understand the immense pressure students continue to face on a daily basis. It should be the top priority of each university to ensure that the wellbeing of their students is taken care of in all aspects, including the academic calendar.