Our mission is to create a life-changing experience that empowers each student either to complete college or to define another, alternative path which is more in line with his/her/their talents, future goals, and objectives.
We also seek to help rising high school seniors and recent high school graduates gain the necessary skills and awareness so that they can successfully navigate their first year in college.
A core belief at Semester Off is that each of our students has the inner potential to succeed given the right environment. For some, this means a more compassionate and empathic learning milieu to improve confidence and self-esteem. For others, this means a more structured setting where expectations are clear and high standards of personal and academic conduct are instilled. For all of our students, we provide a respectful, nurturing space for learning and self-reflection and create a social latticework within which our students develop a sense of belonging and connection.
We are tireless and relentless in our efforts to help our students. In addition to open, honest, respectful, and empathic connections we form with our students, we are constantly brainstorming new and innovative ways to help each of them in their journeys.
While providing our students with the exact kind of safe space they need to be better students, we also endeavor to make each of them better humans. We want them to feel improved and more confident in every aspect of their lives, including in their friendships, their relationships with their families, and their relationship with themselves.
Our broader mission is to transform and disrupt the entire notion, and stigma around, the “ideal college experience” as defined by a student immediately attending college after high school and graduating four years later. While this path may be right for some or even many students, it is certainly not right for everyone, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the student whose path diverges. In fact, we want our students to know that it is quite wonderful that they have this opportunity to learn about themselves and develop in deep ways outside of the traditional university classroom.
Semester Off Story
The conceptualization of Semester Off began in 2011 when our Founder, Ilan P. Goldberg, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, realized that there was a striking lack of services available to the struggling 18-25 year-old population who needed to take a break from college but did not meet criteria for intensive mental health programs. In the course of his outpatient work with these individuals, in which he provided individual psychotherapy as well as psychopharmacology treatments, Dr. Goldberg realized the limitations of these interventions and the slow rate-of-change of the improvement in his patients. He also came to realize that these students cannot truly become better students when they are not attending any kind of college whatsoever and that removing them altogether from academics worsens the phobia and avoidance for many of them.
Furthermore, for many of his patients, the primary stressor was school or school-related, so fixing the problem cannot and should not entail removing them from all academic stress indefinitely with the hope that they will gain skills in other contexts which they will ultimately apply to school if or when they return.
At that time, more and more literature was being published in Western medical journals about the healing effects of yoga and meditation, including their benefits on mood, anxiety, sleep, energy, and focus. He educated himself about the roots of executive functioning issues and how to teach organizational and time-management skills to people for whom these skills do not come naturally.
Dr. Goldberg reflected on his own life and what helped him overcome obstacles in adolescence and early adulthood: participating in sports teams, being a member of musical groups and theater, attending a summer sleep-away camp for many summers, and building friendships in these settings.
At any age, the vast majority of us need to feel connected to others and need to feel that we and what we are doing truly matters. This is particularly true of the late adolescent and “emerging adult” population. In putting these assorted pieces together, Dr. Goldberg realized that the ideal program and group setting for the 18-25 year-olds he was seeing in his practice did not yet exist.
The ideal program would take the best that the worlds of wellness (exercise, yoga, meditation, healthy eating), mental health (empathy and support while also challenging pre-existing beliefs about oneself and others leading to genuine confidence and healthy self-esteem), and academia (stimulating intellectual curiosity, helping develop strong executive functioning and other academic skills), and it would integrate these things in a seamless and coherent manner. The ideal program would be fun, but also intensely revealing, and would be memory-making! The ideal program would provide the right peer group of age-matched classmates who have struggled in similar ways as one another and to a similar degree and would provide the opportunity for students to make lifelong friendships!
After a three year period of conceptualization and countless meetings with administrators from many colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area, as well as mental health practitioners, life coaches, and others, Semester Off opened its doors in January 2015.
The ideal program was launched!
and off we go!
Since January 2015, Semester Off has run continuously at our headquarters in Wellesley, Massachusetts, offering three semesters each year (spring, summer, and fall), and over 100 students have participated! Our students have experienced this unique admixture of fun, deep personal growth, feeling understood, and improved confidence all while gaining concrete academic and life skills and practicing healthy habits of daily living.
They have returned to college and performed better than they had ever performed in their lives, have strengthened their relationships with friends and family, and they have a restored sense of competence, agency, and resiliency.
By popular demand, from Summer 2018 to Summer 2019, the staff at Semester Off has been hard at work developing abbreviated programming to offer in Summer 2019 which condenses, or distills, the most important lessons we have been teaching in our full semester programs into 2-week, 4-week, 8-week, and evenings-only options. These shorter options are perfect for 16-18 year-olds who may not quite be ready for the challenges which college presents, but do not require the Full Semester Experience to learn and master these skills.
We at Semester Off are excited about these new offerings as they provide us a new challenge to reach a slightly different and younger population and to demonstrate that we, too, are capable of growth and change!