Taking an Effective Spring Break

Somehow the media and Hollywood seem to think that Spring Break is a booze filled, raucous party on a beach somewhere. While I’m sure that someone, somewhere probably does spring break like this, as a midwesterner without a trust fund, my spring breaks were usually considerably tamer and (disappointingly) never included a beach.

If your spring break plans also don’t include a beach setting, scandolous behavior, or the opportunity to make some really questionable decisions, don’t despair, there are still ways to make the most of this time. But fair warning, I’m probably going to make some forward thinking, goal oriented suggestions.

Take a Break

By this point in the year, you’re probably starting to get burnt out. Especially in the United States, where we are smack dab in the middle of the dreariest season of the year: dark days, cold, rain/sleet/snow, etc. Add a full class load for the second semester, and some mornings, you’re really not sure if it’s worth it to get out of bed. In short, it’s time for a break. Here’s a few tips on how to make sure your week off really turns into a break:

  1. Change your location. If you have the opportunity to get away from your dorm room or apartment for the week: do so. Getting out of your “workspace” allows you to clear some mental space away from things you might’ve been procrastinating over prior to break.
  2. Plan something to do every day. It’s tempting to spend every day sleeping til noon, scrolling through social media, and following that up with some epic TV binge watching, BUT, if you do that, you’ll actually be less likely to feel rested and relaxed at the end of the week. Instead, pick one thing to do or accomplish each day (even if it’s as simple as meet a high school friend for lunch, or go to the movie theater).
  3. Don’t Reverse your Nights and Days. This is one I am (still) guilty of every time I get a vacation. I end up staying up waaaay later than I normally do and sleeping in. Catching up on sleep is a good idea, but slowly reversing your days and nights is going to make going back to your normal class routine come Monday really rough. So sleep in to your heart’s content, but don’t become a vampire.


Spring Break can be a great time to do some actual traveling. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to [insert country here] or perhaps you haven’t had a chance to see your parents or siblings since Winter Break. Taking the opportunity to trael a little can be an excellent use of this week away from class.

  1. Go on a Short Term Study Abroad.Several universities I’ve taught at have offered special spring break trips to students. At one, students could attend mini-travel abroad classes during their spring break (and actually earn credit hours). At another, the college offered the opportunity for students to take a focused trip to different countries where tours were focused around a specific topic of interest (i.e. government). Trips like these can be a great way to see the world, (maybe) get college credit, and fund it using a student loan, since it’s for educational purposes.
  2. Participate in a Service Trip. One university I worked for sponsored service focused trips for students over spring break. During these trips, students were introduced to social justice topics and had the opportunity to give back to a community in need. The cool part about these trips wasn’t just that students broadened their worldview, but that they learned about opportunities to continue service after graduation, and even learned about how nonprofits worked and ways to work in the industry.
  3. Visit Family and/or Friends. Spring Break can be a good time to reconnect with people who are important to you that you haven’t seen in a while. Spending time with people we care about can be a great way to reaffirm important relationships. As a bonus, you usually get to crash at their place, meaning no hotel fees.

Catch up on Work?

As you get farther into your academic career (grad students, I’m looking at you in particular), it becomes really tempting to tell yourself that you are going to spend the week catching up on work that you’ve let slip or haven’t had time to get through yet in the semester. This is a risky proposition, and here’s why. That wide open week with nothing on the schedule seems like a great time to get ahead, with no interruptions from roommates, no classes that you have to get through, and bonus–the library is empty. BUT, it’s also a week where technically you don’t have anywhere you *have* to be, there’s no one who is going to get angry at you for not doing anything, and the accountability for actually getting work done is basically nonexistant. Inevitably, what happens is that you tell yourself that you are going to be Mr./Ms. Productivity, but the temptation to actually take a break is overwhelming. Meaning there are two possible outcomes at the end of the week: One, you work all week, finish it more exhausted than you started (keeping yourself on task is a tiring job), and you drag into the second half of the semester frustrated and jealous of anyone who had the audacity to post photos of themselves at the beach. Two, you tell yourself you are going to work, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t manage to force yourself, all the work goes undone, and you end the week beating yourelf up for being unproductive.

But, what if you have work that legitimately needs to be done? How do you solve this problem?

  1. Make a plan. Write down a manageable list of tasks to accomplish and figure out where and when you are going to get it done. Prioritize your list: what do you absolutely have to get done? What would just be nice to get done? Then, figure out where you’re going to do it: Maybe on Monday, you are going to spend the day in the library and Tuesday you are going to work from a coffee shop.
  2. Schedule some down time. To avoid the jealously of anyone who took time off and/or the issue of procrastination, make sure that you plan on taking some planned down time. This can be “Wednesday night, I’m planning on ordering in pizza and binge watching the new show that I’ve been waiting for on Amazon Prime” and “Friday night, I’m going to go out with a few friends who are also in town.” Having these planned down time in your schedule will make you feel better about being productive earlier in the day/week and will keep you from feeling like you deserve a break you’re not getting.
  3. Consider working shorter days. If you do not normally spend eight straight hours at the library, spring break is NOT the time to try this out. Setting your alarm for an hour later; taking yourself out for a longer lunch; and leaving the library early in the afternoon to hit the gym before going home are all great ways to break up a long day of studying. It’ll also help you feel more focused while you are actually there.

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