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People walk on Locust Walk on Jan. 10, the day before classes began for Penn students this semester. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn has the fewest days off for students among the Ivy League and several other Philadelphia-area universities. 

An analysis by The Daily Pennsylvanian found that Penn has only 24 days off this academic year out of all weekdays, reading days, and exam days in the school year. This translates to the fewest number of days allotted to break compared to peer institutions and the lowest proportion of days off compared to days in class during the academic year — even when taking into consideration different school year lengths between universities.

The data shows that a majority of Ivy League schools spend approximately 20% of the academic year on breaks, with Columbia trailing at 14.5% and Penn following in last place at 13.3%. 

In response to a request for comment, the Office of the Provost wrote in a statement that “the well-being of our students is one of [Penn's] highest university-wide priorities."

"The Office of the Provost works closely with student and faculty leaders to ensure that we continue to balance our strong commitment to wellness, our educational mission, and the requirements of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for minimum hours of classroom instruction in a semester," the Office wrote.

The Office went on to write that the University has consistently updated its policy for religious and secular holidays — including in 2022, when it modified the policy to include guidance that there may be no examinations or assigned work on Election Day in November.

"We encourage students to continue to talk with their student government leaders as we work together to advance wellness across our campus,” the statement said.  

Although Pennsylvania law requires that a semester be approximately 17 weeks long, other Philadelphia-area schools such as Drexel University, Temple University, Swarthmore College, and Villanova University all grant their students a higher proportion of days off than Penn. 

Despite updates to University policy, some Penn students told the DP that the lack of days off negatively impacts their mental health.

“Because almost everything at Penn requires such a large time commitment — classes, clubs, dance team — there is inevitably a lot of burnout," College sophomore Zaina Maqbool said. "The efforts Penn makes to take care of students’ mental health are great, but the best way to make sure students are taking care of themselves is to give them adequate time to do that."

College and Wharton sophomore Suhitha Kotala said that more days off could be the solution, as it would give students the ability to "catch up on work or [take] time to decompress." 

“It’s rare to see a Penn student who isn’t stressed," Kotala said.

The number of Penn’s days off during the academic year stayed relatively consistent throughout past years and is similar to many peer universities. However, the length of the university’s winter breaks differs from other institutions. While many Ivies provide students with winter breaks that are around four or five weeks long, Penn’s winter breaks range from around two and a half weeks to just under four weeks. 

Penn’s shorter winter break may pose logistical challenges to students traveling home for the holidays, especially for international students. 

“Lots of people choose to not go home for winter break since it costs too much and often isn’t worth it for just two weeks,” College sophomore Manya Gupta, an international student, said.

In addition, College freshman Tristen Brisky said that shorter winter breaks can hinder burnout recovery and prevent them from feeling prepared for the spring semester.

“After a grueling fall semester, many students experience burnout," Brisky said. "They are more likely to feel prepared for spring semester with a lengthier break, and have more time to pursue other commitments like improving their health and nutrition or pursuing [activities that are professionally enriching]."

In contrast to its comparatively shorter winter break lengths, Penn blocks out relatively long summers compared to peer schools. However, while winter break lengths have varied during the past two decades, summers have gradually gotten shorter at Penn. 

According to Philip Gehrman, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine, there are other ways for students to decompress besides having more days off from school.

“To me, what would be most effective is if students were able to balance times of stress and work with times of relaxation every week, instead of saving up that stress for those days off," Gehrman said. "Learning to build that destressing time into your daily schedule is most important to reducing overall stress."

According to Gehrman, poor mental health at Penn cannot be attributed to the length of the breaks, but rather the culture of the university. 

“This is a very intense, stressful culture. I think students put a lot of high expectations on themselves," Gehrman said. "The University would have to see what we can do as an institution to change that, and I don’t know exactly what that would be."