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Some students who have exams and homework deadlines right after fall break say they have been unable to de-stress and spend sufficient time with family.

Credit: Ipek Obek

Despite Penn's four-day fall break, students say their piling homework deadlines and exams have prevented them from de-stressing and spending time with their loved ones. 

The break, which took place from Thursday, Oct. 14 to Sunday, Oct. 17, is critical to students' physical and mental well-being, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé wrote in an email to Penn undergraduates on Oct. 11. "Whether you’re spending this time on campus, traveling, working, or doing research on campus throughout break, I hope you are able to take time to rest, reset, and prioritize your self-care," the email read.

But several students said professors have assigned midterms and homework assignments due the week after break, causing them additional frustration and stress. 

A College sophomore from New Jersey, who requested anonymity in fear of being viewed negatively by her professors, planned to spend her fall break with her grandfather, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. 

But because she has a midterm for ECON 101: "Intermediate Microeconomics" on the Tuesday after fall break, she said she spent a large part of her break studying for the midterm, especially after learning the average for the course's first midterm was a 65% with no curve. 

“I definitely wanted to spend a lot more time with [my grandfather] than I [was] able to,” she said. “I was debating not even going home, but luckily I live close enough.” 

The College sophomore said she also had to cancel her dinner plans with her parents, adding that she already does not get to see her parents a lot because she is extremely busy with her coursework. She said her workload at Penn has made it difficult to find the right balance between school and family. 

“[The workload] makes me question my own priorities,” she said. “I never want to be one of those people that gets so wrapped up in work that they forget about their family.” 

Other students have group presentations, papers, and midterms after the break, finding themselves in a similar situation as the College sophomore.

College junior Megan Shelton has two exams on Monday, directly following fall break — one for CHEM 241: "Organic Chemistry I" and one for SOCI 175: "Medical Sociology." Shelton, who is from Philadelphia, had to cut her visit home short in order to study. 

“I'm not super productive at home with getting work done, so I would rather just be on campus when I'm doing my work and studying,” she said. “I was planning on going [home] for the majority of the break, but now I'm only going for one night.”

Likewise, College sophomore Kevin Guo said he spent at least 10 to 12 hours studying for the two midterms he has the Monday after fall break, and even when he was visiting home in Pennsylvania, and going to places like a nearby state park, he said he was still thinking about the midterms. 

"I definitely could have spent a little bit more time with my family," Guo said. "And I just wish I could appreciate having to do so without just worrying, in the back of my mind, how I am going to do on the exams." 

College first year Angel Ortiz also wanted to spend her fall break meeting up with friends and family, and doing activities like paddle boarding or just getting more sleep. But after being assigned a six-member group presentation in her first-year seminar due the Monday after fall break, and with several history readings and a writing seminar assignment due early this week as well, Ortiz found it hard to do so. 

Although she flew back to Puerto Rico to be with her family during the break, Ortiz said the time to work on each assignment really “stacked” up and took time away from her original plans.  She added that it was especially difficult to coordinate responsibilities for the project with everyone going back home and being in different locations.

While an extended break would give students more time to relax and visit family, Penn administrators previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the University’s current calendar can not afford more days off. The Pennsylvania Code, the official codification of rules and regulations issued by the Commonwealth, has established certain learning requirements that restrict Penn from taking away more days. 

At Princeton University, students are given a full week of break from Oct. 16 to Oct. 24. At other Ivy League universities, like Columbia University and Dartmouth University, students do not have a fall break.

“I know the break is supposed to be seen as a break for your mental health. But I wouldn't say that,” Shelton said. “It's more like extra time to do work.”

The College sophomore said she was looking forward to using fall break to de-stress, but that the upcoming midterm season has prevented her from getting a break from the “constant feeling of anxiety" brought on by the workload. 

Constantly worrying about grades and exams without an adequate break has left her with the feeling that "school is life or death."

Ortiz said her group project and other assignments also created an “undue stress” for her, especially since she wanted to use the break to take time away from course work after recently finding herself feeling tired and unable to focus on course material. Ortiz and Guo added that fall break can be an especially important period for first years who wish to visit their family or high school friends from home for the first time since leaving for campus.

“If they don't have the time to readjust themselves, then it may be detrimental to their physical and mental health,” Guo said. 

Ortiz wishes professors would better understand the significance of fall break for students.

"[Professors should] talk with students [and] make the plans and decisions together so that everybody is satisfied with the class, and nobody feels like they're being overburdened at a time that should be used for resting or recharging,” she said.