Online college is awesome. You don’t have to pay for parking. You can fulfill most of your responsibilities while pants-less. And if the professor calls on you when you’re not paying attention, you can just pretend your screen is frozen.
But it’s not all gravy. As an online student, there are some aspects of the traditional college experience you simply won’t get—live sporting events, dining hall bloat, second-hand stank from your sloppy roommate. There’s not much we can do to help you with these. But we can help you with a much more important aspect of the traditional college experience—Spring Break.
Just because you’re in online college doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to a Spring Break. You’ve worked hard. You deserve a vacation. And why shouldn’t you do something fun and just a little bit reckless with that vacation?
Because here’s the thing. Spring Break isn’t just fun. It’s actually essential.
Of course, if you’re more interested in using that time do something productive, you can always check out these 10 Ways College Students Can Make the Most of Winter Break. Don’t sweat it—most of these tips are not weather-dependent.
But while you’re over there bettering yourself (a responsible decision for which we salute you), the rest of us will be over here having fun.
Spring Break isn’t all fun and games. Oh…wait. Yes it is. That’s exactly what it is. But all of this frivolity actually comes with a noble purpose.
That break in the heart of the semester is a critical reprieve from the grind of your higher education. Fresh off of midterms and preparing for that final push to the end of the semester, you are at your highest risk of burnout at this very moment. And let’s be honest, your professors could use a break from you too. We’ll all like each other a lot better after we’ve had a few days to decompress.
This is every bit as true for online college students as for commuters and campus dwellers. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more students than ever before are navigating both the school year and the prospect of Spring Break as online learners. In the face these conditions, Vox reports that
one of the most consistently discussed challenges has been maintaining mental health. Zoom fatigue and too much screen time have made taking a break even more important. According to a multi-school survey by the University of Michigan, 83 percent of students said their mental health had negatively impacted their academic performance, and half of the students surveyed said they now struggle with depression, anxiety, or both.
Such is to say that Spring Break is important for everybody, even if you aren’t jetting down to Daytona Beach with your 12 closest housemates for a week of late nights, tanlines, and frozen beverages. This time is precious, and you should use it to step away from your studies, get some rest, clear your mind and ultimately enter the final leg of this year’s marathon with a full head of steam.
Now, if you live on campus, there are a lot of pretty obvious options for Spring Break. You can book a big travel package deal with some friends. You can hang back on campus and attend the array of unofficial parties and gatherings that will invariably pop up around you. You can visit home and convene with old friends.
But what if you’re an online student? We’ve established the fact that you deserve a Spring Break. But how exactly can you do Spring Break? Seeing as how you don’t visit or live on campus, what differentiates your Spring Break from every other day, aside from the fact that you don’t have classes?
As an online student, you’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with your computer, smartphone and/or tablet. Your face is connected to the screen at all times. The first thing you should consider if you’re building your own Spring Break is to detach from your devices. Close your laptop. Set up the “out-of-office” auto-responder for your email. Post on social media to let your friends and family know you’ll be taking a few days for yourself. Naturally, since you don’t have to go all the way to Daytona Beach for frozen beverages, you’ll want to leave your blender plugged in. But unplug from the rest of it. This is your time.
Now that you’re unplugged, you may be fully prepared to enjoy the majesty of the natural world. Wherever you live, you are within striking distance of a protected green space, a national park, or a hiking trail known only to the locals. Take a fishing excursion. Go camping. Summit the tallest mountain, hill, or gently sloping boulevard in your county. Whatever you do, make sure it involves fresh air. Adding friends and sunshine to the mix is also generally a good idea.
Not much for birds, bugs, and dirt? There’s still a ton you could do without booking a flight or spending a fortune on lodging. Plan a series of day trips. Spring Break and Daylight Savings usually coincide. Make the most of that extra hour of daylight by scheduling an array of expeditions within a two hour drive of your home. Wake up one morning and head to the nearest beach or lakefront. Venture out in search of semi-local farms, ranches, wineries, or microbreweries. Go that extra mile (or 60) to visit a celebrated restaurant. Visit museums, landmarks, theme parks, and friends that you don’t normally see. Make every day a new adventure. By the time you get back to your computer, you’ll have taken half-a-dozen mini vacations.
How often do you really get to see your hometown? I don’t mean, how often do you rush down the road on the way to your next appointment. I mean, how often have you taken a moment to appreciate the unique spaces, places, and people in your city, town, village, or unincorporated territory? There may be amazing parks, trails, museums, and historical sites right under your nose. There may also be cool places to shop, untapped local food vendors, art galleries, and even just beautiful neighborhoods where you might feel welcome for a stroll. Start by finding out if your town has a visitor’s center. Go there, pick out a few pamphlets and ask the friendly person behind the desk where a visitor might go in this fair city. Also, if they have one of those cornball t-shirts with the name or zip-code of your town, buy it and throw it on. Sure it’s dorky and overpriced, but your purchase will support the local economy and, of course, anything worth doing is worth doing all the way.
One of the best ways to clear your mental space is to clear your physical space. Your working environment is an important dimension of your success. It should reflect the mental state you wish to cultivate while studying. This is an awesome time to rearrange your furniture, get rid of old clutter, dust behind the shelves and, if they’re still sitting out, to put away your Christmas decorations for goodness sake. Cleaning may not sound like a ton of fun but you might be surprised at how therapeutic it feels once you get rolling. Get yourself ready for the final weeks of the semester by priming your space.
You’ve got a little free time on your hands. It’s not enough to master the guitar or learn how to blow glass. But it is enough time to take a crash course in a basic computer programming language like HTML, to learn a new carpentry technique, or sharpen your kitchen skills. In one week, you can even learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube. How you use the time is up to you, but when you train your brain to do something novel, you aren’t just passing the time. You’re opening new neural pathways, the kind that will make your brain more lithe and limber as it navigates the challenging final weeks of the semester.
Of course, just because you’re an online student doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Spring Break the old fashioned way. You may not have a campus community to coordinate with, and you may not be inundated with the same hailstorm of promotions and advertisements that promise to magically whisk campus co-eds to the classy shores of Panama City. But you probably do have some friends that are experiencing these things. Attach yourself to an excursion with some old friends, hop on a plane, and make a bunch of new friends along the way. I suspect that you don’t need our advice on what to do once you arrive at your destination.
Here’s a novel idea—why not just slow down for a minute? Take a few days off from work, study, social planning, and errand-running. Take a few days to just be. Sounds lazy, right? Well, the growing movement toward “mindfulness” actually endorses a little nothingness now and then. It is only by slowing our pace and temporarily unburdening ourselves of outside demands that we can look within. Not to get all crunchy on you. I’m just saying, you might do your best head-clearing if you don’t cram it with a bunch of other stuff. Just be still for a few moments and see how it feels. We promise you, the end of the semester will return you to your previously frantic pace.
Speaking of the upcoming semester, while we don’t necessarily recommend using this important period of respite for study, we also recognize that reality looms on the close horizon. By reality, of course, we mean Final Exams. In the interest of helping you relax, we want you to know that we have you covered as you approach the finish line. For now, feel free to bookmark our expansive set of Study Guides and Study Tips …then forget about them completely for the next week. These valuable resources will be here waiting for you when you get back to school. We’ll see you after the break!
Get survival tips, interesting articles, and much more at our Student Life Blog.
Or get tips on studying, student life, and much more with a look at our Student Resources.
Are you a student who has questions about this topic? Submit your question below to have one of our expert team members answer it for you! (Questions will be posted with their answers directly to this article, and we'll notify you when yours is answered!)