At NYU, we like to keep things alternative. From crazy class offerings to the ridiculous Gallatin concentrations, nothing is normal. Even graduation dates are seeing a change, as students take time off from school to pursue other options, better themselves, or sometimes just reset. The typical college experience takes four years, but here at NYU that’s not always the case. Many students chose to graduate early, but some are taking longer than four years as leaves of absence become more and more common.
NYU grants leaves of absence for reasons ranging from the medical to the pursuit of career options. They grant voluntary, and involuntary leaves. The opportunity to take time off from school allows students to mature and strive in an environment different than the university, and often comes as a great break from the non-stop and often overwhelming activity of New York.
We at NYU Local reached out to a few students who took advantage of this leave of absence policy, to see why they took their leave and how it changed their lives. Gallatin senior Natania Sherman-Presser took a year off from school to pursue internships that may lead to her eventual career. When asked why she took her Spring 2013 absence, she replied, “I got overwhelmed. I had transferred in and spent the whole summer in school. I hadn’t had a break in almost a year and I needed a change of pace. I knew if I didn’t take a step back that I would end up resenting being a student.”
During her time off, Sherman-Presser worked at two art galleries in New York in addition to the West Village café Sweet Revenge. These internships eventually led to a position as gallery manager for seven months, which was perfect for her career goals. This time off was invaluable to Sherman-Presser, as it provided so much experience in the art industry, and led her back to the realization that she needed to take the time to finish her degree before pursuing other career options.
Then there’s the self-care end of the spectrum. We spoke to one student who took a medical leave of absence from NYU and is now matriculated in the university again. when asked why she took her leave of absence, one anonymous student replied, “Before the start of what should have been the second semester of my freshman year, I voluntarily took a medical leave of absence and checked myself in to a rehab in rural Connecticut. I know people who have done wonderful, productive, resume-worthy things with their time off, but I needed that time to get sober and get my priorities straight so that I could ultimately get back to school and get on with my life.” This is a great example of leaves of absence providing students with an opportunity to get back on their feet.
The use of medical leaves of absence allows students time to reform ideas and reform themselves throughout their time off. This student’s academic pursuits were greatly altered by their time off. “My concentration changed almost completely when I returned for the fall semester,” she said. “I took a music class and discovered I had a talent and passion for something I’d always been afraid to try. I started instigating conversations with my professors outside of the classroom instead of dodging their emails.” Without NYU granting this leave of absence, this student probably wouldn’t have discovered a new passion and skill.
A third student we talked to, Steinhardt junior Meg Kilkenny, took time off because, as she says, “New York was wearing me out. Fall semester my sophomore year was when Occupy was just starting. I would have to get to class by cutting through endless streams of protestors walking down Broadway. I would wake up to the sounds of helicopters, eight or ten of them, streaking the sky. This time in my life can accurately be described in a line by James Murphy: ‘New York I love you, but you’re freaking me out.‘ I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I was directionless, and this made my education seemingly pointless. I needed time to figure out what I wanted to study.” Meg spent her year off working two jobs to support herself completely, a foray into the adult world. Though she missed her friends dearly, Meg is ultimately glad for her time off.
So maybe college is not a four year process. Maybe it’s three or four or five. Whatever the process is, the point is that you’re happy, healthy, and pursuing opportunities. These students are a testament to the importance of leaves of absence, and the opportunities that can come from this process. At a school as individualized as NYU, there’s no reason to think you have to conform to anything, including a graduation date.