Several students have already asked me this semester whether I think they should go home for Thanksgiving. I remember wondering the same thing when I was in law school. As with many questions, the answer is, “it depends.” If you’re considering leaving town for the holiday or taking time off to celebrate, here are some pros and cons to consider.
How does time spent with family make you feel?
For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday means spending time with family. For some, this idea will conjure rosy tableaus of everyone joining hands around an inviting table, and sharing food and laughter in a relaxing, loving atmosphere. For others, the very idea of being locked in a house full of screaming toddlers, barking dogs, bickering and drama with no exit strategy is even more anxiety-provoking than final exams. So ask yourself, how do you usually feel coming out of a family holiday? Is the sigh you breathe when you shut the front door behind you one of fulfillment or utter relief to finally be getting out of dodge? If hanging out with loved ones makes you feel refreshed, supported, happy, and calm, then this might be a great time to put the books away and go home! If you usually leave family gatherings in tears, feeling frazzled, regretful and more stressed than when you got there, then maybe staying in the library is a better way to safeguard your mental and emotional well-being during this lull before things go truly nuts (see below).
How much time off would you need to take?
Would you spend the time off travelling very far? Are there trains or planes involved? Will weather present any potential delays? Will you be able to use transit time to study, or will you be the driver? Once you get to your destination, will you have a quiet place to work, or, will your plan be to put the books away entirely? Some students find it valuable to recharge for one full day before launching back into the attack planning. I agree, this can be a wonderful plan—providing it’s actually refreshing, and providing you can make it work. If your trip will cause you to lose more than one full study day, you may want to think critically about how you can make up this time.
How close to the holiday is your first exam?
Many students have a matter of a couple days between coming back from Thanksgiving break and sitting down to take their first final. If you are one of these people, time off may jeopardize your exam performance. Obviously, that will depend on how far along you are with things like getting your outlines up to speed, taking practice exams, writing hypos, memorizing rules, etc. Even for the most caught-up, savvy student, though, more time to review and do hypos (and then review those hypos!) is always better. If the holiday will cut it too close when it comes to your finals, consider sitting this one out. See if someone will bring you leftovers. I have a friend who drove over 500 miles, from Northern California to San Diego to bring her little brother Thanksgiving food the next day because he had to miss out. Obviously, this friend was not in law school. If you decide to skip, maybe you can find a friend or family member who isn’t too busy to take pity on you toiling away at your desk while everyone else enjoys the festivities.
How much of a handle do you have on the material you’ve learned so far?
Maybe you will show up for Turkey Day poised and ready with cutlery and a napkin around your neck like Wile E. Coyote only to find that your mom or dad has taken it upon themselves to quiz you on the black letter law as they whip up the mashed potatoes. Lee wrote an interesting blurb about her mom doing just that when she was a 1L! Being put on the spot like this can force us to realize that we don’t know the ins and outs of the law as well as we need to for the exam. If your understanding of what you’ve covered so far in class is still a relatively cursory, amorphous idea at this point—e.g. buzzwords and factors sound familiar, maybe you can even rattle off a few, but you can’t recite them at a moment’s notice when someone asks you—then you need to fix this before exams—the earlier, the better. Your goal going into finals should be to have every rule committed to memory, along with every attack plan, which can take quite a bit of time. On top of that, you should focus on practicing hypos or written exercises whereby you give yourself the opportunity to get comfortable applying these rules to novel fact patterns. And, doing one negligence hypo isn’t enough for all of Torts! Ideally, you should be practicing writing out at least one example of every topic in every subject before you are tested and graded on any of them—this means a lot of extra time outside of reading, preparing for class and making outlines.
Do you have a post-Thanksgiving plan?
If you do choose to take a brief reprieve, make sure you have a set schedule for the days to follow. If you think the law school pressure is on right now, just wait until people come back from Thanksgiving break! Maybe tryptophan plus outlining results in a lethal potion capable of being concocted only by the likes of Dr. Jekyll, but for some reason, post-Thanksgiving is when the craziness in law school really begins. If you want some ideas for how to combat the madness, check out this informative post about the law student flip-out that can occur during and after Thanksgiving and what to do about it.
Ultimately, the choice of whether to take time off is a personal one, and it’s up to you. This holiday stands for and entails something different for each of us. As much as I love stuffing, I actually stayed at my apartment and studied over the break when I was a 1L. I got a ton of outlining done too, and I don’t regret it for a moment. That happened to be the right decision for me, but it might not be for you. As with outlining, there’s no one correct way to do this. You just need to put together a strategy that works for you!
How thankful are you really … ?
Just kidding. In any case, as cheesy as it may sound, do take a moment to reflect on how lucky you are. I’ve said it before, going to law school is a privilege. For all the stress, anxiety, and work involved, things could be a whole lot worse. Think about it this way, we panic over whether to take a vacation from a prestigious learning opportunity most people will never get, just so we can gorge ourselves on extra food. I’d say we all have it a little better than we think.
— – —
Want more law school tips? Sign up for our free mailing list today.
And check out these helpful posts:
- Remember, Remember, the Fear of November
- November – Starting to Prepare for Finals
- Take a Moment to Give Thanks
- How to Cope When You’ve Got Too Much Going On
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.