The Arch academic calendar needs to be re-worked
The current academic schedule for the Arch semester, with only one week-long break during the semester and no reading days, does not facilitate an enjoyable learning experience and I felt constantly overwhelmed.
The Arch semester starts two weeks after the conclusion of the Spring semester and runs through August with only one week-long break for the 4th of July. Then, there’s a week-long break before the school starts up again with the Fall semester.
While the problem appears to be the single week of recovery time between the Summer and Fall semesters, the real problem lies beneath: the extended period of time the Arch classes continue without a day off. The start of Arch to the 4th of July break is 34 days long and while a standard time to go without a break, both Fall and Spring semesters have a day off within the first month. Personally, these early breaks are incredibly important as they allow me to catch my breath with all of my new classes; I normally spend that extra day organizing my plan for the semester.
After the 4th of July break, there are 49 days before the end of the semester. This is the longest stint in the academic calendar without a day off. The next longest stretch without a break occurs between Spring Break and the reading days for the Spring Semester, totaling 44 days. Without a single day to catch my breath during Arch this summer, I was just surviving. It felt like I was always treading water with my head right at the surface; any mistake and I would start to drown. I remember telling my parents that if the 4th of July break had been a week later, then I would have taken a mental health day.
The lack of reading days before final exams led to unrelenting stress and made it feel like I needed an additional 12 hours a day to have a chance to be successful on my exams. My finals week went like this: I had homework due Monday, an exam on Tuesday, homework due Wednesday, two finals on Thursday along with an IED presentation and memo, and to top it off, homework due Friday after I took the final exam for the class. With no breaks between classes and exams, I found little time to study and ended up cramming either the night before or only a few hours before the test. By the time I got to my last exam, I was so mentally burned out that even though I still had time left, I just guessed on a hard question and turned it in. I knew that I had enough time to actually solve it, but I was so exhausted that all I wanted to do was be done with the exam. The last week of the Arch semester was the worst week that I have ever had at Rensselaer.
At times, I thought this was perhaps a unique problem, and that it was just my rotten luck with the classes and schedule that I had, but when I brought up the packed finals weeks, my friends agreed that it was just too much.
The solution to both of the problems is to add days off throughout the semester, maybe one in early June, one in early August, and two for study days. This would provide both the recovery breaks throughout the semester and a break between classes and finals to study. The problem is that those days have to come from somewhere and the Arch semester still has to fit between the Fall and Spring semesters.
A possible solution would be to start Arch a week earlier, which would free up a max of five “off” days. However, I recognize that some students need a two-week break between the semesters for recovery. Sadly, this week still seems like the best location from which to take days away. Moving the end of the Fall semester back would run into Christmas, and moving up the start of the Spring semester would be too close to New Year’s Day. Furthermore, those options would make the spring to summer semester transition the largest break between consecutive semesters, which is unfair to all of the students who are not participating in the Arch semester in a given year.
These extra days would be extremely helpful to provide necessary rest during Arch, and hopefully reduce the wear that I experienced. I know that other students may disagree and prefer rarer but longer breaks, so if RPI were to consider changing the calendar, I would implore administrators to first discuss with students to determine which solution will make students the most comfortable with completing three or four semesters back-to-back.