A Relentless Semester on the Horizon

Why students need a spring break.


One of many schedule alterations that Champlain College made in the face of COVID for the upcoming Spring ‘21 semester was the cancellation of spring break. The vacation time won’t disappear entirely – an extra week has been added to winter break for compensation – but it leaves an extremely daunting path ahead for students approaching the semester. For the first time in many of our lives, we are facing fifteen weeks straight of academics, without a single day off. 

This may seem like a petulant complaint, but I think it’s more than justified. The human brain needs breaks from academic and professional work in order to function, at best, smoothly, and at worst, at all. In his article “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,Scientific American contributor Ferris Jabr writes, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

It’s especially pertinent to college students, and doubly so with more than half of the classes for the spring semester at Champlain being taught completely remotely. As we’ve been finding out this semester, the workload for a remote class is substantially larger than it was in person. Add that extra work to the stress of maintaining jobs, keeping GPAs up, and living through COVID, which has been confirmed as a mass traumatic event, and it’s a miracle students are staying afloat as it is. 

With academic and professional standards not granting any leeway, students are expected to perform to the degree that they could before COVID and going remote, which has put a crushing load of pressure on us. It also forces our brains to work overtime convincing ourselves that we don’t deserve quarter in our academic lives; if the standards for what we should be able to do haven’t changed, our ability to do them shouldn’t change either, right?

We’re already going into the semester with surrounding circumstances and a headspace practically designed to make things mentally harder and less healthy for us. This year, we need that spring break more than ever to decompress, and we’re not getting it. 

Having no recuperation and recharging time over the whole semester will definitely affect us academically; that goes almost without saying. 69.2% of 52 surveyed Champlain students believe that, as a result of losing spring break, they will perform worse academically during the upcoming semester. With no pass/fail option like there was last spring, students’ GPAs will be taking a hit.

Beyond our academic lives, our personal lives will also be impacted by the lack of a break. Aside from the obvious in that on-campus students won’t be able to see family, all of us, even – and perhaps especially – remote students, will have to either miraculously find downtime somewhere it doesn’t exist or suffer the mental health consequences. 

The average Champlain student takes 15 hours of classes per week. Each course has an average of 4.5 hours of homework assigned per week, which brings the total academic engagement time up to 37.5 hours. Most of us are employed, add another 10 hours. Removing the recommended time for sleep and the estimated time for meals, we’re left with only 43 hours a week to ourselves. 

However, most of us are engaged in extracurriculars as well, and that further drains our free time. Some of us are doing internships. Some of us work multiple jobs. And even in the free time that remains, in order to stay on top of our responsibilities we’re expected to be constantly checking Canvas and our emails. In our current situation, as long as we aren’t on an academic break, we don’t have downtime. 

If you want to know how badly humans need that downtime to function properly, just look at how many countries in the world legally require all employees to be given paid time off. Aside from the many tiny islands of Micronesia, only one country doesn’t require a single day of leave, proving the vitality of downtime. Spoiler alert – that one country? It’s the United States.

It’s a fact that we need breaks to stay functional, and to stay mentally healthy. Tim Krieder writes in his New York Times piece “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.” 

And we concur. 88.5% of surveyed Champlain students think that having no spring break in the upcoming semester will negatively impact their mental health. We know that having no break from academic pressure will hurt us. 

So what should Champlain do? The reason spring break was cancelled in the first place was to limit student travel and keep us as safe as possible by lowering our risk of contracting COVID. They clearly have our safety and our best interests in mind, and it’s probably too late to change the spring schedule anyway. 

However, administration should be aware of the impact this will have on students, and, if we face similar situations in future semesters, be prepared to give us the week of respite from academic pressure that we need.