The 2020-2021 academic calendar was far from perfect. The lack of days off completely devastated students’ mental health, and the condensed semester made classes feel overwhelmingly impossible. Yet the one thing last year’s academic calendar did right was end the fall semester before Thanksgiving break.
By extending winter break and ending the semester before Thanksgiving, students were actually given time to relax and recuperate. NC State needs to consider adjusting all future academic calendars to do the same thing for the benefit of the students.
For reference, this year’s fall semester starts Aug. 16, and the last day of classes is one day after Thanksgiving break, Nov. 29. Finals will then take place from Dec. 2 through Dec. 8. Comparatively, the first day of class last year was Aug. 10 and finals were completed by Nov. 24.
The biggest effect of this shift in end dates from last year’s academic calendar is that last year, students were able to actually enjoy their Thanksgiving break instead of stressing over finals. By the time Thanksgiving break came around, they had no more homework, no more study guides and no more stress. We were able to actually breathe and enjoy the company of our families in whatever form we were able to see them. However, this year, the proximity of the last day of classes to the break means that students will be spending the whole break studying, stressing and preparing for final projects. Our break will be completely consumed by exams.
Students in foreign language classes, for example, will probably be spending their entire break preparing for their final speaking exam due on the last days of class. From my experience in Spanish classes at NC State, the last few days of class are typically spent on speaking presentations that are too long to do on the actual exam day. This understandable adjustment to the exam schedule forces students to turn their break into pseudo-reading days in order to be prepared for the exams and therefore takes away a much needed mental break to recuperate before the start of finals.
This mistake of turning the break into pseudo-reading days also affects other classes as well, such as classes within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. As a humanities major, many of my final exams are essays instead of timed tests, since many of the concepts taught in humanity classes are best tested through essays that have connections to the real world.
During the past two semesters, for example, more of my exams have been long-form essays with a due date of the last day of class rather than traditional tests on exam days. This means that students like me will spend their whole Thanksgiving break working on final essays rather than recuperating and visiting family.
Finally, dragging school out past Thanksgiving break increases the already heightened stress levels of college students during the holidays. This can have a severe impact on their mental health because the holiday season can hold a variety of stressors for college students. Students are worried about returning home to tense family environments, paying for holiday gifts and some students are even left trying to figure out how to get home and back in the short time span of the break all the while balancing work and their everyday lives. When you add the stress of failing on top of this, you create a devastating scenario for student mental health.
As a result, extending the winter break to include Thanksgiving like the academic calendar did last year could actually benefit student mental health. Next year, NC State could shift the fall semester start date up to the first week of August. This would move the last day of class to around Nov. 12 and leave the 15th through the 23th for reading days and exams. While it’s too late to alter the start dates of this semester, NC State could consider doing the next best thing and extend the semester to provide more days off before and after Thanksgiving Day. While this will not solve the problem of dragging the semester out, it would provide extra days off for travel, work, family and mental breaks during the holiday.
Shifting the schedule in these ways would preserve the much needed days off that last year's academic calendar lacked while still preserving the Thanksgiving break as an actual holiday like last year’s academic calendar did. With all of these benefits of finishing up the semester before the break, I have to wonder what argument colleges have for dragging the semester out like the current calendar does. What benefit does starting mid-August have versus moving the start date up a few weeks? Are those benefits really worth the stress and pressure placed on students just to keep the current schedule?