How do absences work in college?

Erika Serna '21

Hi all! My name is Erika A. Serna and I’m a third year at Olin College! I wrote my first two years (mainly my first one) for OLINsider, and I’m back!

So a lot has changed from when I first wrote and even from my last blog post! But to be brief, I’m currently an editor for Frankly Speaking (Olin’s unofficial newspaper), a Design Nature NINJA (a NINJA, which stands for “Need Information Now? Just Ask,” is a student tutor/course assistant who works with students to help them get the most out of their classes), a member of the MIX (Multicultural Innovators eXperience), and taking four classes. 

As I was looking for topics to write about, Alia Georges (who runs OLINsider) mentioned that prospective students sometimes want to know what it’s like to go home in the middle of the semester. Coincidentally, I had just gotten back from being gone for two weeks (the first week I was at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers conference in Phoenix, AZ, and the second week I was attending family events).

So what is it like?

I was fortunate enough to know that I was going to be gone more than a month ahead. Although I didn’t have control over when I went to SHPE, when I made plans to go home, I made sure I wasn’t missing too much class. I ultimately missed three days and was thirty minutes late to the class I had the day I returned. 

I also worked with an ARC (Academic Resource Co-Designer, which is like a NINJA that helps students with their overall academic skills) to write an email to all my professors that I would be missing class a month before I did. I also emailed them again before I left. ARCs help students make schedules, write scary emails, and stay on track for the semester. 

The other piece of this was that I also let my teammates know I was missing class. We made a schedule, and everyone put down the days they knew they were missing. This step was important because class time is often work time for projects at Olin, and doing this let us realize if we needed to work outside of class as well. 

It was that simple. I bought my flights, I wrote some emails, I sent some emails, and I communicated with other relevant people (like my therapist and my bosses). 

However, there are two complicated things about when I left: the work and the fact that I left during advising week. 

In order to prepare for the fact that I was leaving, I looked at the syllabus for my classes and asked my professors what work was left for the semester if it wasn’t already clear. I also assessed my progress in the class and what my workflow was like. I had been submitting my Transport homework late, so before I left, I spent extra time to catch up so that I would not fall even more behind. In my Immunology class, part of the work was to present four times, and so I made sure that my presentations were on days I could be there (this is why knowing ahead of time was important), and if I wasn’t going to be there, I was going to talk to my professor and see if I could record my presentation and send her a video. The project classes were a little scary because I had to be like, “I am not going to be here. What can I do while I am here, and how can I minimize the impact of my absence?” It was scary because project assignments are often vague, and you as students have to decide what to do about it, and so I just did my best. But, like, it wasn’t ideal. 

Now that I’m back, I have to finish the assignments I asked for extensions on and accept that although I frontloaded some of my work, my break was when I was gone, not now anymore. 

Advising week is when advisees (students) meet with their advisors to talk about the courses they plan to take next semester so that they are approved to register for those courses. The advising week timing wasn’t that bad in terms of meeting with my advisor, who I meet with on Mondays. It was that I also had meetings with other professors, two to talk about ongoing classes and the other about a project someone asked for help on. So it meant the Monday and Tuesday before I left (which was a Wednesday) had meetings back-to-back, but thankfully, all of the people I needed meetings with were able to meet at that time. 

Overall, no one told me I had to do these things. I knew I had to email my professors because I knew other people did that, but I wasn’t really sure what those emails should look like, so I asked my ARC to help me write those emails. 

It feels weird to me that I was gone for what feels like so long. I feel a little detached from Olin because so many things happen every day that I don’t know what I missed. 

Leaving Olin mid-semester made me turn off the “School Time Brain” (even though I still had to do work during that time) because I had to focus on other things like the conference and being present with my family. I was afraid coming back that I wasn’t going to be able to turn the switch back on, but because there are so few weeks left, I’m excited to finish my semester.

If you have to take a trip or be absent for a few days during college, I hope it is for something positive, but also it works out as long as you take responsibility for your work, communicate, and make arrangements ahead of time. Even if it’s an unexpected leave, there are things you can do to be responsible.

Posted in: Erika '21, Class of 2021