Wesleyan’s winter break is an aimless time for students. While most rival NESCAC schools go on break for just three or four weeks, Wesleyan’s five and a half week break stretches through January. Some schools, such as Williams and Middlebury, have a short winter session usually called “J Term,” or “Interterm.” Wesleyan attempts to execute this but does so with little success. According to Jennifer Curran, Director of Continuing Studies and Graduate Liberal Studies, only 107 students out of all four undergraduate classes participated in Winter Session. And while some students have luck obtaining jobs or internships, many struggle to find meaningful work opportunities.
“Honestly, I didn’t do much over break,” said Philip Alexandrov ’19. “I feel like my liver worked harder than my brain. And yeah, that’s awesome, but at the same time when you hit week three you’re like okay, I could probably start being productive again.”
Reasons vary as to why students don’t participate in Winter Session. The most prevalent, however, are the steep costs attached to the extra course. To take a Winter Session course at Wesleyan, students must pay $3,200 per course (which comes out to $320 a class) along with a separate meal plan at $225. Paired with other costs such as printing, laundry, or leaving campus, the cost to take a Winter Session course totals over $3,500. And while the school does offer some financial assistance to take these courses, it is only for students who are already receiving aid from the University. That pushes away other students who may be able to pay for Wesleyan tuition itself, but not necessarily the added expense of the Winter Session.
“I totally would have taken a Winter Study course—considering I only live an hour away—but it’s too expensive and not worth it, even though I’m trying to graduate a semester early,” said Mackenzie Mitchell ’20. “We already have to pay for tuition so it’s too hard to pay so much extra for only a single credit class. I really wish I could have though.”
At Williams and Middlebury, Winter Session costs are included in their year-long tuition. Both schools also offer about 10 times as many classes as Wesleyan does; courses at Williams range from “Glass and Glassblowing,” to “Journalism Today,” to “Creating a Viable New Business Idea.” Amherst also offers an interterm period, when students can submit proposals for courses. Here at Wesleyan, however, students have to pay upwards of $3,500 to pick between fewer than 10 courses. Many of these courses, like “Introduction to Programming,” and “Applied Data Analysis,” are also taught in the fall and spring semesters, making Winter Session even less compelling.
“I was thinking about doing a Winter Session course, but was disappointed with the lack of courses offered,” Anna Sophie Peters ’20 said. “The only course that fell in line with what I am studying was one I already planned on taking in the spring as a full length course anyway.”
These rival NESCAC schools encourage students to engage in productive winter breaks; not only is Winter Session a part of their tuition, but they also are given guidance by their Career Centers on how to find internships or work during their time off. Many students find that Wesleyan gives minimal guidance when finding work or internship opportunities for Winter break.
“I like how long break is, but I think it would be good if Wes did something like Oberlin, where you have to have an internship or something structural like that,” said Ali Dawes ’19.
If the student body is largely off campus during January, the Gordon Career Center should have a much stronger presence helping students find work. There is no strong help or push for students to look for ways to cultivate their minds outside of the classroom, wasting three weeks when students could have done something productive.
“I didn’t get a job because I figured it was my first break and it would be a good amount of time,” Cameron Burger ’20 said. “It ended up being way too long. Since there’s no backbone to our break, the Career Center could really add some structure. I wish they emphasized pursuing internships and job opportunities because I could have made a lot more use of my time.”
For students to be productive throughout the winter break, Wesleyan must either eliminate the extra costs of Winter Session, offer more courses, or help students find internships and job opportunities during their time off campus.