October 5, 2007

Students make most of time away

U of C undergraduate Joe Compratt said he wasn’t ready for college when he started his first year in 2002. After two nonconsecutive years off, Compratt returned last week to begin his fourth year at the University.

The real-world experience he gleaned during his time away from the University of Chicago has made the University’s academic workload easier for him, he said. “Before, I just went through my schoolwork mechanically. Now, I know I can handle it,” he said.

Compratt took his first leave of absence during the

2004--–2005 school year. During that time, he attended two other schools and was hired by a private investment firm.

He returned to the University for the 2005–2006 school year and kept working at the firm. He then took the 2006–2007 school year off and worked.

Nancy Gilpin, an academic adviser in the College, said about 100 students each year take a leave of one or more quarters and almost all return to the University. She said many students have told her that taking a year off was the best decision of their lives.

“While deciding to take a leave can be scary—loss of community and friends, uncertain graduation date, must look for a job, etc.—the student will return a different person: willing to take risks, focused, self-confident, and excited about being able to take advantage of the many opportunities at [the] University of Chicago,” she said in an e-mail interview.

“Often the experience during the leave, especially if the student has been working, will help the student decide on a career path and understand the advantage of a good liberal arts education as well as gain experience in understanding how important a good work ethic and people skills are to the workplace.”

One student knew what she wanted out of her Chicago education and had time to pursue a new direction after working in the business world for four years, Gilpin said.

Many students take leaves of absence to travel, work or volunteer, but there are other reasons students take time off, according to Gilpin. Some undergraduates take time off for medical reasons, family circumstances, or internships. Others who have completed their course requirements take a quarter or two off to save money, look for a job, or to complete a B.A. paper.

Not all leaves of absence are voluntary. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was suspended for poor grades. The student said she knows other students who were on the verge of being barred for bad grades, but decided to take time off before the University could take action.

According to Compratt, taking time off was a good option for him but might not be right for everyone. He said students should remember that taking a leave of absence will delay their lives and that for most students, getting through college as quickly as possible is the best option. He said working at an investment firm gave him a new perspective on life and academics. He still does not like the school environment, but spending time away from the University made him appreciate the U of C’s educational experience.

“I hate the University of Chicago but I believe that it is the best academic experience in the United States, and possibly the world, and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to go there,” he said.