This year Penn students will enjoy the shortest winter break in years, with finals ending on Dec. 22 and spring classes beginning on Jan. 11.
That gives students a break that’s almost a week shorter than last year’s, when finals ended on Dec. 18 and spring classes did not begin until Jan. 13.
While students are fuming about the shortened winter break, Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning Rob Nelson explained that scheduling breaks can be extremely difficult. In determining the dates for winter break, the Council of Undergraduate Deans had to weigh consistency with flexibility.
“One of the main reasons the dates came out the way they did is because we really want to have the spring term always start on a Wednesday,” Nelson said. “That way everything from there, from how far you got until the Martin Luther King holiday to when spring break starts, happens on a similar pattern every year.”
Nelson also explained that they could not simply add days to winter break without subtracting them from summer like other colleges can because they have to follow Pennsylvania state law, which requires every class to meet at least 14 times a semester and prohibits having more weeks in the spring term than in the fall term. These laws apply to all colleges in Pennsylvania, public and private.
“Schools like Harvard can simply shorten their school years, like we used to do, because Massachusetts does not have so many requirements,” Nelson said. “It’s a very difficult situation where we are trying to maximize all our breaks, but are bumping up against these state laws, which don’t give us much flexibility.”
The markedly shorter break has lead students to complain that they will not have enough time to rest after finals, and that the especially late end to the term makes traveling home for the holidays incredibly difficult and expensive.
College sophomore Liqhwa Ncube said that having finals until Dec. 22 is especially hard for international students who want to get home before Christmas begins. Ncube is from Zimbabwe, and to get home, she has to make connections in Qatar and South Africa.
“In my country the holiday actually starts on the Dec 22. The flight is exponentially more expensive because of that,” Ncube said. “They should really make break before the holidays so that people like me can get home and spend time with their families. I won’t even get there until Christmas.”
While Penn has the highest percentage of international students among Ivy League schools, it has the shortest winter break. Harvard, for instance, gives students over a month off.
College sophomore Francesca Reznik believes the University didn’t considering that buying plane tickets for Dec. 23 is nearly impossible, even though the vast majority of Penn students are not from the Philadelphia area.
“This is the only time [of] year I can see my family in Mexico, but since the break was so shortened and pushed back, I’m not going to be able to go,” Reznik said. “The plane tickets were three times what’d they’d normally be and even if I went I’d have way less time.”
Still, students feel that winter break is now far too short for them to spend enough time at home.
“By shortening winter break and having finals go so late, your ability to get a mental break which people need at Penn is really diminished and I find that really hard,” said College sophomore Isabella Essex. “I’m on the rowing team, so I have to come back even earlier and it was hard to explain to my parents that I’d only be with them for 10 days.”
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