How to Have a Productive Semester Break without Burning Out

The semester is finally over and it’s time to give your brain a much-needed and well-deserved break! While doing nothing for the weeks between semesters sounds amazing, it could actually end up hindering you for the next semester. Read on to find out how you can give yourself the break you need while also staying productive enough to not end up facing the new semester in a sleepy fog.

hands holding up a sign saying schools out

It’s time. You’ve endured 16 (or 8, depending on your class choices) weeks of lectures, studying, exams, projects, presentations, and every other attempt of the higher education curriculum that, at times, seems like its sole purpose for existing is to cause your brain to melt. Your last paper is submitted, your last presentation completed, and your last exam handed in, and blessed brain freedom is in your sights. It’s officially the end of the semester, and you’ve earned a well-deserved break. You’ve earned the time to rest, relax, and recharge.

So why on earth would you want to be productive during these few weeks of academic freedom? Don’t you deserve the chance to veg out, sleep to your heart’s content, and not think about anything remotely task-related until next year? Of course you have! By all means, veg away – to an extent, though. Hear me out.

According to Mississippi State University, “…one of the biggest problems students face is staying productive to keep an active mind and avoid returning to class…feeling overwhelmed and stressed.” It makes sense when you think about it. After spending a solid handful of weeks doing absolutely nothing related to your studies, only to dive right back in come the new semester with zero preparation isn’t setting yourself up for success – it’s setting yourself up for unnecessary stress right off the bat as you now find yourself beginning a new semester already overwhelmed and trying to catch up when you’ve barely even started.

Given these two extremes, it’s safe to say that the single most important thing one can do over a semester break is simple in theory but could be a bit challenging in practice – find the balance between the proper amount of rest while maintaining enough productivity to keep your mind firing. How do you do this? Well, honestly, you’re really the only one who can answer that. No one knows your limits better than you (or if you don’t, maybe that should be one of the things you work on during the break). It’ll probably be a system of trial and error figuring out just how much and when you should allow yourself to rest versus when you should find a task to focus on. However, I do have a technique I can suggest to help focus those efforts, and that’s my short list below of the 3 S’s to care for over break – Self Care, Student Care, and Society Care. This small selection of just a few different options each can help focus your efforts and your time, hopefully working towards that sweet spot of contentment between rest and productivity.

young woman resting on floor wearing headphones

Self Care:
You can’t take care of others, or aspects of yourself, before you care for you.

  • Spend one day doing nothing. You know you’re going to need some rest. You know you want to veg out and give your brain a break. Even if you have to write it on a calendar and send out notices to your family of “do not disturb,” giving yourself one full day of your favorite ways to relax is, I think, the perfect way to kick off your semester break. And doing nothing doesn’t necessarily have to encompass the literal meaning of “nothing.” Whatever you prefer to do to unplug from the world is what you should spend this day doing – be it escaping into a good book, binging a season or two of your favorite show, a relaxing hobby like knitting or diamond art…whatever brings you the most contentment during your waking hours – do it, for an entire day. The rest of the world can wait.
  • Contact and/or meet up with a friend or family member you haven’t seen for a while. Even if it’s just a quick text check-in of, “Hey, been a while, how are you doing?” reconnecting with someone you’ve been thinking about but just haven’t been able to connect with can be a serious dopamine boost. It can also be a stress-reducer by easing the low-grade anxiety or worry that can come from thinking about a loved one but just not being able to connect with them to really catch up and find out about how they’re doing.
  • Make your mental health your overall priority for the break (and beyond). This will look different to everyone, but the core idea is to recognize the challenges you’re currently facing and that might be weighing on you and then commit yourself to doing what you need to in order to get through them. Whether that’s just committing to getting a full 6-8 hours of sleep each night to help reduce stress or if it’s a bit more intensive like taking up meditation or even starting therapy sessions with a therapist, I can guarantee you that your number one asset going into a new semester isn’t going to be how well you know the material or the latest, most advanced laptop – it’s going to be your well cared for mental health.

Explore Mental Health Services @ Coastline

Student Care:
Now that you’ve nourished your well-being, take some time to prepare your studious self for a successful semester start.

  • Look and apply for scholarships. According to College Raptor, “Scholarships often have an opening date in the fall, especially if they're going to be awarded for the following school year of college. Most of the major deadlines during this season will fall between October and December 31st,” however many scholarship deadlines align with college admissions season, so you’ll see a variety of applications still open through February, March, and beyond (like Coastline’s Scholarship Application, which is open until February 12th, 2024). What better time to try for some extra cash for college than when you don’t have to worry about juggling coursework and applications at the same time?
  • Take a course over Winter or Summer Session. If you’re really looking to get ahead (or catch up) on your studies over the break, one of the most beneficial things you can do is take a course over Winter Intersession or Summer Session! Here at Coastline, a variety of classes are offered during the in-between sessions, making it a great opportunity to either knock out a general ed requirement you might not want to devote a full 16 weeks to, or even move farther along in your degree with another major-required course. The one caveat to this is to remember that between-semester courses are condensed courses – Summer Session courses are typically eight weeks, and Winter Intersession courses are 4-week courses. This means course material can oftentimes be intense and very fast-paced. However, if time management is a strength of yours and you can handle the condensed curriculum, the benefit of getting an entire course out of the way between semesters could end up being a pretty big game changer in how smoothly your regular semester goes!
  • Schedule counseling meetings to make sure you’re on the right path for the coming semester. Remember that just because you might be on break, support staff for your school are still hard at work and ready to help! Schedule a meeting with an academic counselor to go over your progress so far and make sure you’re on the right path for the upcoming semester. Check-in with Career Services for internship opportunities or career counseling if you’re still on the fence about what career path you might want. If your goal is to continue to a 4-year university, connect with Transfer Services for important transfer deadlines or upcoming transfer fairs and workshops. The more of these logistical tasks you can get out of the way before the start of the semester, that’s more time and energy you can devote to your courses and less stress for having to juggle so many semester-start obligations!

Talk to a Counselor @ Coastline

group of friends volunteering at a food bank

Society Care:
You’ve given yourself some much-needed attention, gotten yourself good and prepared for the next semester – now you can give your spirit a boost by giving society some TLC.

  • Volunteer a couple of times at local events. For some, the holiday season can be exceptionally rough. Luckily, there is no shortage of volunteer and charity opportunities during the holidays. Volunteering a couple of days at a food bank or local soup kitchen is a great way to give back to the community and provide some much-needed hope and care to those feeling the struggle of the season. Want to get involved after the holidays or during the summer? Well, food banks/pantries are year-round necessities - or check in with your local city programs. Many animal shelters, animal rescues, youth programs, senior community programs, community outreach programs, and more are always looking for volunteers for a variety of roles. Chances are you could even find something related to your prospective degree or career you’re working towards, giving you an excellent opportunity for some valuable hands-on experience.
  • Do a closet and/or pantry clean out and donate unused goods and clothing. As I mentioned, the holidays can be especially rough, but there is always a need for donated goods, be-it food, clothing, housewares, pet care items, and more. Take a day and give your home (and by extension, your mind) a good cleansing and decluttering by gathering some items you may not need anymore and taking them to a local donation center.
  • Connect with a local animal rescue and foster. While this one may not be feasible for everyone, I can guarantee it’s one of the most needed and consequently one of the most rewarding things you can do over a semester break. Animal shelters across the country remain at capacity and rescue organizations are bursting at the seams with all sorts of animals in desperate need of a loving forever home – particularly kittens. It may sound daunting, especially for someone who may not have much experience with animals, but fostering a litter of kittens for a local rescue is actually much easier and less intimidating than you would think. Many rescues provide access to any medical needs, food, litter supplies, and even toys and treats, so the financial obligation is lower than many would expect. Also, depending on the age and health of the kittens, the time commitment is most likely far less than you would imagine, too. Find out more about all the ins and outs of fostering from animal rescuer Hannah Shaw, a.k.a. the Kitten Lady, in her Planning for Foster Kittens article.

three gray tabby kittens in a carboard box

Whether this blog finds you approaching the holiday season or about to enjoy the sunny days of summer, here’s hoping you have a wonderful, restful, productive, and safe semester break!

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