The Road Less Traveled: Life as a Super Senior
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 02:09
Legend has it that if you step on the campus seal at the entrance to Healy Hall, you will not graduate on time. Whether or not that story is true remains to be seen, but for some students, taking an unconventional path through Georgetown is not a myth.
According to U.S. News and World Report’s 2011 college rankings, about 13 percent of Georgetown undergraduates do not graduate within four years. The reasons for prolonging one’s academic career range from choosing a five-year plan to having to take a leave of absence due to a health condition.
When Four Isn’t Enough
For Julian Sesma (COL ’13), the decision to remain on the Hilltop for a fifth year made good academic sense. As a biology-theology double major and a premed student, Sesma could graduate on time only by taking a full course load during both the academic year and summer.
Instead, during summer 2011 he remapped his academic plans to include another year at Georgetown.
“Yes, I wanted to spread out my schedule. Yes, I wanted to think about what I was going to do after my fifth year. And at the end of the day, I still had some requirements to finish up,” he said.
Sesma said he also wanted an extra year to enjoy Georgetown’s social scene and explore more opportunities.
“I think Georgetown has a lot to do with building relationships with other Hoyas, and that’s one of the main things I’ve gotten from my Georgetown experience,” he said. “Building relationships in the context of the university is the thing you’re going to carry with you.”
Sean Quigley (SFS ’13), however, never considered taking additional time to complete his degree.
Quigley, who is currently on a leave of absence, began the process of applying for medical leave last spring after a combination of schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family issues and insomnia created an unmanageable load.
After serving as editor-in-chief of The Georgetown Voice, co-director of the Improv Association and a member of the foreign service fraternity Delta Phi Epsilon, Quigley said he pushed himself too far.
“I joined all those groups my freshman year, so I had done three years of the grind of Voice, improv, fraternity stuff and schoolwork, and my grades had always been fine,” he said. “For me, it was just kind of an endurance thing. I was tired of doing it all. I fell one semester short.”
Quigley said that his dean, Maura Gregory, ultimately suggested that he take medical leave in order to get back on track.
“I [have] to give them credit, because it was Dean Gregory’s idea for me to take this leave of absence, and I wouldn’t have even known it was possible to get this semester scrubbed off my transcript,” he said.
For some students, taking a leave of absence becomes a matter of medical necessity.
Former Super Senior Anna Martignetti (COL ’12) considered taking a medical leave of absence after feeling sick during her sophomore year but did not make the decision until the illness worsened her senior year.
“I was super disconnected socially I could hardly show up to my job at The Corp. I knew something was wrong,” she said.
Martignetti was rushed into surgery for appendicitis complications when she returned home for winter break, and she went on medical leave the following semester.
“When I left, it didn’t feel as strange, because being physically sick at school is just as isolating as being sick at home,” she said.
Rewriting the Plan
The decision to remain on campus an extra year or to apply for leave requires coordination across multiple university departments.
According to Anne Sullivan, senior associate dean of the college, voluntary leave is nearly always approved, while medical leave requires more careful consideration because each student’s situation varies.
“The college deans are fully supportive of students taking a leave of absence, for good reason,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “We do not pressure students to ‘stay in school,’ and we certainly do not pressure students to rush through the degree.”
After making the decision to take a leave of absence, students work with university counselors to develop a plan for their time away.
Quigley’s leave agreement stipulated that he receive treatment for his insomnia and find a job.
“Almost always, there is no academic credit to be earned while on leave — the leave is a ‘leave’ from the academic enterprise to do other worthy and interesting things, or to respond to a family crisis or some other circumstance where stepping out of the degree for a period of a term or a year is a good idea,” Sullivan wrote.
Christopher Dicks (SFS ’12), who took two separate medical leaves of absence, went to sessions at Counseling and Psychiatric Services to decide what to do during his time away from campus. Toward the end of his leave, Dicks took summer classes at American University to readapt to academic life.
Students who forgo the typical four-year Georgetown experience say that on-campus resources proved invaluable.