While it’s common for Bowdoin students to participate in off-campus study programs, each year a small number of students chose to take time off from Bowdoin for other reasons.
According to Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, a total of 68 matriculated students were on leave during the Spring 2013 semester. This group includes students taking voluntary leaves of absence, medical leaves and disciplinary leaves. Because of its small size, The College does not share more specific leave numbers.
Middlebury released statistics last week indicating that the number of students taking voluntary leave there has increased dramatically. According to an article in the Middlebury Campus, 59 students are currently taking voluntary leaves of absence alone.
Meanwhile, the number of students on leave for any reason from Bowdoin has remained relatively steady over the past three years, declining slightly from 75 in fall of 2012 to 68 last spring.
Dean of First Year Students Janet Lohmann says that the College encourages students to take time off.
“Students who spend time away are served well,” she said. “They grow in wonderful ways. When they come back here, they’re ready to get the best of what Bowdoin has to offer.”
The College does not evaluate what students on voluntary leave do while off campus and does not expect them to document anything upon returning.
Many students agree that taking time off is a positive experience. Alexi Robbins ’14 took last year off to work on an app, Tamber, which provides concert recommendations for users. Robbins said that taking time off was something he considered from the beginning of his college career.
“I came to Bowdoin with the notion that I would either do some time abroad or possibly take some time off. Bowdoin’s a very small place with a lot of stuff going on, and I had a ton of fun those first two years,” he said. “But it also felt a little bit claustrophobic, and I also had a lot of things that I wanted to do outside of Bowdoin.”
Robbins lived and worked in Berkeley, Calif., and took classes at the University of California-Berkeley. The transition back to Bowdoin, he said, was an interesting experience.
“I lived in this city on the other side of the country and built a life there in the same way that I built a life here,” he said. “Being a part of a totally different college and then coming back to Bowdoin was a stark juxtaposition.”
Eliot Taft ’15 did not expect to take time off when he first arrived.
“I had always planned on doing an abroad program, but as sophomore year moved along I got less and less excited about how I thought the experience would be,” he wrote in an email to the Orient. “I really wanted to take a break from academics and commit myself to something really different than what sophomore year gave me—beyond taking classes and hanging out primarily with a group of other American college students, which is the main gist I got from all programs.”
Now, Taft is living in Uruguay, working on a dude ranch and vineyard.
“On my free days I go fishing, hitchhike to nearby towns or cities, or ride in the nearby sierras,” he wrote. “The experience of being alone and to really figure yourself out, which I’ve gotten a lot of down here, I think is a good thing to have in your college years.”
For Christian Celeste Tate ’16, a semester off meant an internship at the White House, which he will return from at the end of this semester.
“When I realized that I wouldn’t have to graduate late, I figured I might as well,” he wrote in an email to the Orient.
All three students agreed that the College had been accommodating of their decisions to take time off.
“I spent less than 20 minutes on the phone, and faxed them a single form, and everything was taken care of,” wrote Tate. Robbins said that Dean Foster was “very positive” when they discussed his plans.
Many of the problems that arise for students are social: “Within the first month of traveling down here I started to miss Bowdoin a lot—things like the Outing Club and always having friends around you in the dorm,” said Taft.
“It’s been sad,” Tate wrote. “I was ready to go back to Bowdoin by August. When I decided to take the semester off, I realized it’d be another four months before I saw my friends again.”
“You basically have to weigh it against graduating in four years, staying with your friends, and staying with your classmates,” said Robbins.
Lohmann said that the most common reason for students taking time off is a medical leave of absence.
“There’s so much that goes on here, and so much that students want to do here, and you want to get the best of what Bowdoin has to offer,” she said. In the case of a serious medical condition, she says, “We really encourage students to step away and attend to their health and wellness.”
For students who take medical leave, the process for returning is slightly more complicated. Students returning from medical leave apply to a “readmission committee”, as do students returning from disciplinary suspensions or leaves for reasons of academic deficiency.
Students write statements describing the problem that led them to take time off, the steps they’ve taken to address it while away, and their plan upon returning to the College. The dean’s office encourages these students to take as much time as they need, and works with the counseling and health centers to communicate with the students’ care providers while on leave.
“The worst thing for us, and it doesn’t happen very often, is when a student takes a medical leave, comes back, really wasn’t ready to come back, and then has to take a second medical leave,” she said. “When students do take medical leave, we want to make sure as an institution that they’re healthy enough to return to the college.”