With the spring semester drawing to a close in a few weeks, most seniors at Brown are busy enjoying their final stretch of the college experience.
But for students in the class of 2022.5, one more semester of courses, deadlines, projects and exams still looms ahead.
The number of students in the class of 2022.5 will not be known until December, University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.
The Herald spoke to four students from the class of 2022.5, as well as one current junior who took the entire 2020-21 academic year off, about their experience with leaves of absence and the feelings that come with graduating separately from many of their peers.
Cricket McNally ’22.5, a biology concentrator, decided to take a leave of absence in spring 2021 “on a whim” after one of her friends decided to take leave as well.
“I kind of felt like school wasn’t as worthwhile being online (instead of) in-person,” she said, noting that she felt “more comfortable” taking time off because she took a gap year after high school.
Free from the constraints of college academics, McNally moved to Honolulu, where she worked as a researcher for the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and at the biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks.
“I’m really happy with my choice to take time off. I have no regrets,” she said, adding that she would encourage students contemplating taking leave to reach out to her.
In addition, taking a semester off also gave McNally an “extra summer” for internships, giving her more time to determine her post-graduation plans.
Other members of the class of 2022.5 described similarly positive experiences during their leaves of absence, consistent with previous reporting by The Herald on students’ leaves of absence during the pandemic.
Gabe Mernoff ’22.5, a public policy concentrator, used his leave of absence to work part-time jobs in education and incarceration research, as well as communication and event planning for nonprofits.
“I’m definitely glad (I took time off),” he said.
In addition, Mernoff praised the University for being “accommodating” to students taking leaves of absence.
Still, students expressed sadness over the difference in academic timeline from many of their peers.
Clara Epstein ’22.5, a transfer student who cannot graduate until December due to credit requirements, said it will be difficult to part with her friends.
“I feel like a lot of (my) friends are moving on during this big life transition, and I am still in school,” she said. “(I am) definitely a little nervous.”
Being a 0.5er also poses unique logistical challenges for some.
Deb Marini ’22.5, who took the spring 2021 semester off, said she struggled to find housing for her final semester on campus.
Although she could live on campus in the fall, Marini explained that living in a dorm on campus would be too expensive for her. Moreover, since most landlords in Providence “only sign one-year leases,” finding off-campus housing is quite difficult, she said.
Epstein also observed how the job search can also be different for 0.5ers. Finding a job “will be something that I’ll figure out in the fall, which is kind of nice (but) kind of also hard,” she said.
Mernoff made a similar point about how the job search “can go both ways” for a midyear graduate.
“Graduating at the end of a calendar year … can be advantageous," as companies are sometimes looking to hire people for the new year, he said. But at the same time, many post-grad, entry-level jobs are catered toward applicants graduating in May or June and hence start in the summer, he added.
Commencement for the class of 2022.5 will also look different.
“Brown celebrates (0.5ers) in a special Midyear Completion Celebration each December. … This has happened at the University since 1989,” Clark wrote.
In addition, “all (students) have the option to ‘walk’ at Commencement in either the May ceremony preceding or following their December completion,” he added.
Many of the 0.5ers The Herald spoke to plan on walking with the class of 2022 during Commencement next month.
But not all students who took leave will have the option of joining their original class during Commencement this May.
Rachel Fuller ’23 will not walk through the Van Wickle Gates until next May — without most of her original class — after taking two semesters off during the pandemic.
When asked to reflect on her decision to take leave, Fuller expressed some ambivalence. “So far, I’m glad. (But ask) me again in a year when all of my friends have graduated and I’m alone,” she said.
But at the same time, Fuller said she’s taken a “lot of steps” to “get into new activities and make new friends” and still “feels really excited” for next year.
Fuller said that she’s “more excited about the academic side of school” than she typically is. She plans to take upper-level seminars in international relations and public policy as a senior and to “dig really deeply into (those) topics.”
She added some advice to students in the College: “If anyone is thinking about taking a gap year for any reason, whether it’s mental health or trying something new, … I do recommend it.”