In the spring of her sophomore year, College senior Lauren Every-Wortman realized that four semesters of classes had made her restless.
“I really just wanted to have a little bit of time off from academics,” she said.
Every-Wortman decided to take a leave of absence from Penn in the fall of 2008, trading visual studies classes for practical experience in the art world.
During her semester off, she participated in an internship program sponsored by Boston University, where she spent a few months taking classes in Paris and a few more interning at an art gallery in the city of lights.
She found the internship to be just the vacation she needed from the daily grind of coursework.
“It gave me a little break before I moved on to my thesis,” said Every-Wortman, who will still be able to graduate on time.
The leave of absence also allowed Every-Wortman to solidify her career aspirations. While she has always had a passion for art, she now is interested in working in a small gallery like the one she experienced abroad.
Though the College advising office does not compile data on the number of students who use leaves of absence to pursue internships, Every-Wortman is far from the only one to take time off from Penn to explore her interests outside of the classroom.
In the recent past, Associate Director of Academic Advising Alice Kelley said she has seen many an undergraduate take a leave of absence to pursue extracurricular opportunities — including the chance to intern in the film industry, work as an au pair and train for the Olympics.
“People have used the time-off in all sorts of interesting ways,” Kelley said.
To take a leave of absence, students have to fill out a form before and after the time off. Upon their return to Penn, advisors sits down with the students and asks them about what they have learned from their experiences, she added.
According to Kelley, students who take leaves of absence are frequently presented with offers that are difficult to refuse, such as the chance stay longer at their summer internship.
That was the case for College senior Adrienne Benson after her freshman year.
In the summer of 2004, Benson worked for Grassroots Campaign Inc., helping with John Kerry’s presidential campaign. She quickly got promoted, and when she was asked to stay through the fall, she accepted because “it was such a great opportunity” and an important cause.
During her experience with the 2004 presidential election, Benson “caught the campaign bug.” She ended up taking three non-consecutive years off from Penn to work in politics, including serving as the Deputy Finance Director for Patrick Murphy’s Congressional campaign in 2006 and working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007.
Originally a member of the Class of 2007, Benson said her time-off “definitely” affected her social life. “I have friends who graduated in 2004, and I have friends who graduate in 2013,” she said.
But despite the social complications and the sometimes difficult transitions between school and work life, Benson does not feel she has missed out on her college experience. In fact, she said, her work experience has made her a better student because she is a harder worker and more mature. As a result, Benson is a self-declared “evangelist” for taking time off.
Every-Wortman would also recommend such an experience, but only for those who can still graduate on time and have the financial resources.
Kelley said taking a leave of absence can pose difficulties for students with loans, because payments are due six months after no longer being a full-time student.
In addition, Kelley noted, students who take leaves of absence have to make sure they still have health insurance. Many insurance providers only allow college-aged students to stay on their parents’ plans if they are in school full time.
But as long as students have the means and good reason for their break from classes, Kelley would advise students to take time off – and assure concerned parents that their children will finish their education.
While parents “get nervous if children do something out of the ordinary” and may be nervous that their sons and daughters will never leave the working world, Kelley has “never seen it happen” except in cases where students take leaves because they are unsure that Penn is the right school for them.Comments powered by Disqus
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