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Fall Break Fallout: Exploring Student Perceptions of the Impact of an Autumn Break on Stress


The mental health of post-secondary students has dominated recent discourse surrounding higher education. Accordingly, many institutions have introduced a break in the fall term, designed to support student well-being. As part of an interdisciplinary, longitudinal study examining the effects of the fall break on student stress, we held focus groups with undergraduates. We observed mixed feedback surrounding this intervention. Students appreciated the fall break as an opportunity to reduce their stress, yet they frequently reported negative impacts of the break on the timing of academic assessments and their ability to effectively manage study time. Based on extensive dialogue with students, we provide recommendations for institutions which have implemented or are considering implementing a fall break as a way to support student mental health. We aim to address the paucity of qualitative research on student stress and develop a deeper understanding of the factors driving students’ responses to stress intervention policies.

Published: 2019-12-13
Pages:45 to 54
How to Cite
Agnew, M., Poole, H., & Khan, A. (2019). Fall Break Fallout: Exploring Student Perceptions of the Impact of an Autumn Break on Stress. Student Success, 10(3), 45-54.

Author Biographies

Conestoga College
Canada Canada

Dr. Michael Agnew is a research coordinator in the Office of Applied Research and Innovation at Conestoga College. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the MacPherson Institute at McMaster University, where he conducted research on institutional responses to student stress and wellness, blended learning, and faculty development partnerships.

University of Ottawa
Canada Canada

Dr. Heather Poole is a teaching professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa. She has a background in cognitive psychology, which she uses to inform her teaching and her research in SoTL. She is a founding member of a multi-institutional research team studying the effects of university policies on student stress and mental health. 

McMaster University
Canada Canada

Dr. Ayesha Khan is a teaching stream associate professor in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University. As part of a multi-institutional Canadian initiative, her current research interests include studying the effect of undergraduate-focused university policies on the mental health of post-secondary students. 

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795