The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday April 11th

Column: Take a gap semester

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I’m graduating this December, but my biggest regret in college is never taking a gap semester from school. It feels cliché to say that college slips away quickly, but it really does. There’s a certain point as a senior where you feel old. Like really old. The sobering reality of working a nine-to-five for the next 30 years blindsides you with imminence, and three-year-old Snapchat memories make you long for time travel. 

So — if you’re privileged enough to have a decent home situation — don’t waste a quarter of college attending UNC online. 

I’m learning less in classes, partly due to distractions, partly because it’s just so easy to be burned out right now. Being engaged in classes is about as difficult as trying to sit through a virtual Rico Nasty concert. But lectures themselves aren’t worth the $24,000 annual cost of attendance ($52,000 for out-of-state students!). It’s what you can learn outside class in a normal semester — meeting people from different upbringings and different cultures, living independently, cooking on your own or getting lost in Phillips Hall on FDOC. 

None of those major life lessons will happen next semester, even though UNC is trying to return students to campus yet again. Maybe it’ll last two weeks this time. 

Even when school isn’t online — but especially when it is — it’s so easy for assignments and exams to consume you. Maybe you’re truly passionate about organic chemistry or medieval history, and you love it. 

For myself, it’s exhausting pouring time and energy into classes that are painfully boring, or just plain painful. A lot of these courses too often seem pointless, lacking utility for any future I can imagine. And while I’ve found a few new interests in college, I’ve neglected countless passions. Seventy pages of ethics reading come before a book from Flyleaf I haven’t had time to read. Sakai forum posts come before the novel I haven’t had time to write. 

By chaining our lives and identities to endless assignments and making us compete against a curve, college trains us to be good capitalists. For prestige and funding, schools like UNC strive to turn us into great capitalists, even if it means sacrificing students’ mental and physical well-being during a pandemic.   

It seems like too many of us, myself included, have fallen into this trap where we work hard for better grades, so we can get into a better graduate school, so we can get a better job, so we can make more money, so we can make our parents proud, so we can afford the bills that begin to pile up and still be able to pay for our own kids’ college. So that we ourselves can be happy. 

But ask yourself: are you happy right now? If you’re not, take a break longer than the optional one-day mental health "pause" this tone-deaf administration thought was enough. 

Life’s long enough to take a semester off. But it’s too short to be stuck chasing contentment while perpetually suffocating in work. Especially now, when the sky feels like it’s falling, but you don’t even have time to look up.

Reignite the passions you couldn’t make time for this semester. Keep reading and learning, not for a grade or a graduation requirement, but to find and focus on what truly interests you. Spend time with your family and do your best to lift others up. But most importantly, give yourself the chance to breathe. 

Put yourself first and make your headspace a priority. Because this administration never will. 

@ryan_smooth

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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