Students reflect on decision to take leave of absence

With the majority of classes online next semester, students are unsure if another virtual semester is worth it.

USC Building

Following the announcement by USC that its Spring 2021 semester plans were placed on hold,  students remain unsure of their plans for the upcoming semester.

Los Angeles county remains in Tier 1, the most restrictive tier, in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy state framework. As of now, USC has not been granted permission to have in-person instruction next semester.

“Current state and local health restrictions preclude us from resuming any on-campus activities,” wrote Charles F. Zukoski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at USC, in an update to the USC community on Oct. 14. But the administration remains hopeful that some courses will be offered as hybrid or in-person depending on future guidance from LA. Country health officials.

Despite the hope expressed by USC’s administration, many students are considering taking a leave of absence (LOA).

Grant Go, a junior economics major, started this semester from his home in the Philippines. He’s balanced classes and two other jobs remotely. While Go is still registering for spring this week, he’s “around 85% sure” that he’ll be taking a LOA because of the COVID-19 spread in America.

“It’s really more about the COVID situation,” Go said. “As an international student, I’m kind of worried what would happen, you know, if I were to get it while I was there.”

Finding time to spend with family and maintain a healthy work to life balance has also been challenging given the 15-hour time difference between Los Angeles and the Philippines.

“Going to extracurriculars, exploring L.A. — I mean, those are the reasons why people go to college in the first place and not like just [to] an online school,” Go said. “It’s really hard to spend time with family or do stuff just outside of classes, because you know, when you’re awake everyone else is asleep.”

To make this choice, Go said he’s relying on officials' decisions — like Dr. Anthony Fauci and the L.A. City Health Department — to inform his choice instead of USC information.

“A lot of [USC’s] information isn’t really set in stone,” Go said. “...I’m hopeful that [by next  fall], I’ll be able to come back to campus and take at least hybrid classes.”

Sandra Olmedo, a senior psychology major, has decided to take a LOA next semester to focus on self care.

“I need to take some time off to take care of myself,” Olmedo said. “For the most part it’s mental health reasons, but it’s definitely been exasperated by COVID and our online format.”

Olmedo intends to find a therapist in the spring to help cope with the stress of the pandemic. But she still wants to maintain a routine, so she’s applied to a health related internship to stay productive during the semester. She also plans on registering for a course to become a certified medical translator.

“I need to recenter myself during this pandemic… I don’t want to graduate late, but I’ve begun to realize that I’m on my own timeline. I’m not on anybody else’s timeline and if I need to take some time off, I need to take some time off,” Olmedo said.

While Olmedo believes the administration has valuable mental health resources, they struggle to communicate them to the student body. She also said the lack of breaks during the semester made it difficult to handle academic stress.

“Right now, the way that things are going, USC needs to be basically pushing mental health resources down our throats — that’s what it needs to be, and they’re not doing that,” Olmedo said.

Next semester, USC has announced that there will be no spring break for students, but rather “wellness days” spread throughout the semester. Those dates have yet to be determined.

Matt Slade, a junior studying international relations, decided to take a LOA this semester and focus on his internship in international relations. He said that he found making the decision challenging knowing that he’ll graduate later than expected.

“One of the hardest parts was like, knowing that I would be sort of behind a lot of my classmates and friends,” Slade said. “They will be continuing their education that I would be one semester behind.”

But Slade also found taking this semester off helpful for his personal growth.

“Having this amount of time to sort of focus on myself and not be worried about school and grades has been really helpful for me personally,” Slade said.

Slade will resume taking classes next semester just to stay on track with his classes and the likelihood that his internship will end soon.

“I would be worried about taking an entire year off,” Slade said. " I think that gets harder to justify, especially because a lot of the virtual work that I’m doing right now is centered around the election."

Slade said that students considering a LOA should prioritize what’s best for their situation, financially and mentally.

“Don’t get caught up in what the four year experience has to look like because we get a very stereotypical image of,  ‘You have to graduate in four years in college and this is how every semester should go’ and that is not the reality for so many people when they go to school,” Slade said.