When Communication junior Priyanka Thakrar packed her bags to study abroad in Paris, she expected a quarter filled with adventure, culture, good eats and new friends. She did not, however, anticipate the injury that cut her European trip short, sending her home and forcing her to take time off from school to heal.
For many Northwestern students, life’s ups and downs put a roadblock in the college timeline, luring them away from campus and leading them to take time off. While taking time away from school can seem daunting, mysterious or even stigmatized, many Wildcats have found that time off has been necessary for their well-being.
Thakrar had to make the decision to take a break from her studies in France due to spinal pain from an old injury.
“I immediately had to fly to London because I have family there, and doctors told me I needed to have surgery right away,” Thakrar says. “I really had no option at that point but to take a medical leave.”
Fortunately for Thakrar, the administration at both Northwestern and her university in Paris made the process of taking time off and returning to school extremely smooth. Her academic advisers were accommodating and did most of the work for her, she says, with only a few forms and surveys on her end. Weinberg says on its webpage that students “may generally take time off from their studies and return to Northwestern whenever they choose to do so. No special permission for a leave of absence is required.”
By filling out just a few forms, students who feel the need to withdraw from their studies, especially for work or financial reasons, can return to the school when they feel ready. A Former Returning Student Application must be completed through the Office of the Registrar, and according to the Weinberg Undergraduate Handbook, Weinberg advisers “can help [students] with the return process, the transition back to Northwestern, and planning [their] next steps.”
When it comes to taking time off for mental health reasons, however, policies and procedures become a little stickier. In an effort to promote students’ health and success in the NU community, the University takes situations involving mental illness on a case-by-case basis.
The process for requesting a medical leave of absence consists of three steps: completing a Request for Voluntary Medical Leave form, contacting CAPS or Health Services and making an appointment with the Dean of Students Office. A medical leave of absence typically requires students to take at least two quarters off.
“Their reasoning is that you need time to heal,” says Communication junior Sarah Mowaswes, who returned to NU at the beginning of this past quarter after taking a leave in the fall.
Over the course of the past quarter, Mowaswes not only learned about the logistics of taking time off at Northwestern, but she also encountered evidence of a certain stigma that surrounds taking a quarter or two off. Students here often equate leaving with failure and admitting defeat, she says.
“If you ask people on campus if they have thought about taking time off, the numbers are certainly much, much higher than you would assume,” Mowaswes says. “Recovery is not easy and it takes time and work and support, and anyone who looks down upon that has none of my respect.”