college in winter

Once an international student has decided upon their set of undergraduate studies in the U.S., there’s often a lot of planning that goes into making their stateside academic journey a success. But the academic calendar isn’t the only aspect of U.S. collegiate life that needs plotting. Don’t find yourself unwittingly caught off guard by the academic breaks your American peers might more easily fulfill at a moment’s notice by virtue of their proximity to home. Some university breaks aren’t long enough for a complicated international trek to see family and might, instead, require some thoughtful alternatives. Here’s a quick primer on the breaks an international student might encounter while studying in the U.S. and a few quick ideas for taking full advantage of them.

  • The big holidays. Thanksgiving and winter breaks aren’t simply time spent away from school—they’re often imbued with familial and cultural meaning. So, if a roommate or classmate invites you home for the holidays, give it serious consideration and think of it as an eye-opening opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse of life in the U.S., its customs and celebrations. Even if you don’t manage to snag such an invite, your school might offer the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with families of professors, administrators, or alums. And if your main consideration is making others feel less glum over the holidays, there may be opportunities to lend a smile or a warm heart to those in a retirement home, hospital, or homeless shelter. At the very least, get a sociological feel for the U.S. during the official holiday portion of your break, even if the rest of your school vacay is dedicated to me time.
  • Mid-semester downtime. While fall and spring breaks aren’t considered national holidays, most U.S. students consider them to be rites of passage. Not every college offers a fall break but, if they do, it’s usually in October or November, while spring break is more common and typically occurs in March. There’s no right or wrong way to spend this time, but still, aim to get away from campus if you can. These breaks are opportunities to ski, swim, hike, lie on a beach, visit a national park, take a road trip, visit another region of the country, volunteer, or do whatever else you’d like with your newfound group of college friends. See if your school’s outdoor adventure club is planning a camping trip, or if your roommates are aiming to bum around on a beach. If you feel less like bumming around and more like giving back, know that most colleges offer “alternative” spring break options, which typically connect student to volunteer opportunities domestically and abroad.


Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory. Visit our website to learn more about Zaragoza Guerra.