One of the best things about Athabasca University is its courses run year-round. This is also one of the downsides of AU. With the ability to begin courses every month, students have no built-in holiday period. There are no fixed semesters and no fixed breaks. No summer holidays, no reading weeks, no year-end break?nothing.
AU students, if they want a break, have to build it into their own schedule. In theory, this is the ultimate benefit of AU’s flexibility. In practice, AU students sometimes neglect to give themselves permission to take those much-needed breaks.
If you’re taking courses every month of the year, there are still opportunities for holidays. You’re in charge of your schedule. With a bit of planning and the discipline you’ve been practicing as an online student, you can give yourself a break any time during your studies. Here are three possibilities:
At the start. Just because your next course begins on the 1st of the month doesn’t mean you have to. If you’ve been taking course after course without pause, the beginning of your next course may be an ideal opportunity for a break. Once you crack open the new course’s textbooks you’ll find it hard to stop, so take a break first. Plan to start your course on the 4th or even the 8th and use the extra few days to take a breather, take a mini vacation, or connect with friends. If you have other courses on the go, you could spend the time to shower some extra focus on them, but why not use the time to shower some extra focus on yourself? Motivation is high at the beginning of a course, so beginning a few days or a week later than you could won’t set you back much.
In the middle. A holiday in the middle of a course (or courses) can be the refreshing break you need. A few days away from the books gives your mind a chance to work out the organizational problems of that paper you’re writing, wrap your head around a difficult concept, or gain some insight into a perplexing problem. Or you can just have fun! If you want a short break in the middle of a course, plan ahead to ensure your study plan incorporates some time away from the books. Make the break long enough to be relaxing, but not so long that you lose momentum in your studies. Even one day can feel like a holiday when you’re studying the other 364 days of the year. And, who knows? The anticipation of a short break may just be the incentive you need to make it to the half-way mark.
At the end. There’s always a delicious moment of euphoria when you click “submit” on the final exam or assignment for a course. The feeling is even better when you’ve left yourself time for a short break before beginning your next course. Even if you have other courses on the go, you’ll notice that having one course off your plate frees up some time. Sure you could just plunge ahead into the next course, but why not take a well-deserved break to celebrate completing another step in your educational ladder. Plan to finish a course no later than the 24th and savour a week of full or partial downtime before your next course begins.
For students doing a whole program through AU, school can be a relentless multi-year pursuit. Studies are often piled on top of work and family obligations. leaving little time to even think about a day off.
However, if you plan your studies you can plan your breaks too. That’s one of the AU student prerogatives. What gets scheduled often gets done, so put your holiday in your planner and schedule around it. After all, you’ve been working hard at your studies?you deserve to give yourself a break.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.