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College Summer Courses: the Pros and Cons

Many colleges and universities have just opened registration for summer courses in the past month, and many college graduates swear taking as many classes during the summer as possible is an ace in the hole to make college go much more smoothly.

This is to the point that some may believe there’s no dissenting opinion; summer courses surely must be an excellent idea for everybody.

In reality, there are plenty of college students past and present who hold a lowly opinion of summer secondary school.

They just don’t mention it much because they either took summer courses and regret it, or they decided not to take a summer class and they haven’t thought about making that choice ever since.

The silent dissenters are not necessarily right or wrong, but in the interest of painting a complete picture, we think it’s best to present both sides in full.

The Benefits

The prime selling point of a summer college course is its sheer convenience. An entire course, usually an annoying one, is squeezed into a few weeks and then you’re done. It then becomes one less thing to worry about and, if you play your cards right, you could even graduate early.

These things are true. Summer courses are great for gen-ed and required classes that many students aren’t looking forward to taking. Since they’re over in just a handful of weeks (in some cases, even less than a month), they fly right on by.

The convenience goes beyond this, however. Many colleges and universities are now offering summer courses online.

Failing that, there’s a decent chance you can take an equivalent course at a community college back home and transfer the credits over. It would be best to consult an advisor on whether this is possible in your case, but it’s certainly been done before and can be done again.

The Non-Benefits

While “benefit” may not have any proper antonyms, the exact opposite of “convenient” is “inconvenient.” Sure enough, for all the conveniences that summer classes offer, you will need to make some sacrifices.

Yes, the classes are only a few weeks compared to several months, and you would typically only be taking one or two of them, but they still contain roughly the same number of total hours. This means you could be in the classroom more days a week or for more hours at a time, or probably both.

If you miss one class, you could wind up missing a significant fraction of the course. If you’re lucky, this will “only” set you far behind in coursework, but if you’re unlucky, your school might have a “one and done” rule regarding absences and kick you from the course for already having missed too much.

Intensive is the word often used to describe summer semesters. When you take the homework and assignments into account as well, that may very well be an understatement.

Why do summer courses seem to go by so quickly? Because time flies when one subject is consuming all your waking hours. A given week of a summer class may be busier than a typical week in a normal semester.

This feeling of time escaping you might be made worse by the fact schools usually only offer summer options for the required gen-ed classes most students don’t care about.

From the school’s end, this makes sense. Why devote an entire out-of-season course to a subject only a small plurality of students are majoring in? Your options for summer courses will invariably be limited to classes with a wider market.

All of this is assuming you were even comfortable with sacrificing your summer break in the first place. You might tell yourself that when you graduate, you’ll be an adult in the workforce and you won’t have summer vacations anymore, so you might as well get used to it. But believe us: you might miss it when it’s gone.

If you were planning to use your summer break to work and make money to pay for college, a summer class can deeply throw your budget out of whack. You would have less time to work and an extra class to pay for upfront.

Speaking of payment, that might be the most important thing to consider.

The Uncertain

At some schools, summer classes are cheaper to incentivize students to take them. At other schools, they cost more because they’re taking up extra resources.

Still others price them exactly the same as their full-length counterparts, which some interpret as being fair while others think that’s a complete rip-off for a “shorter” class.

It goes without saying your school and its summer course prices will vary, but the price itself is not the only detail to consider.

Most colleges and universities do not allow summer courses to be covered by scholarships. If you’re receiving any money from your school, it likely will not be going toward these classes.

Also, good luck if you’re part of a work-study program that requires you to stick around campus and work during the summer. Some schools will outright bar students from even signing up for summer classes due to their obligations, while others will let students try to balance class and work despite knowing there will eventually be a scheduling conflict.

This conflict results in students getting bounced from the class and/or the work-study program when they simply can’t fulfill all their duties. Then again, your school might be more merciful, and none of this paragraph may apply to you.

There are other potential risks and rewards to taking a summer course, but those are much more frivolous things that are equally risky to just taking the class during a standard semester (e.g., “You might meet some great people in your summer class who you would never have met if you took it during the regular semester!” …but you also might meet great people in the regular semester if you don’t take the summer class).

What the choice boils down to is whether you have the time and money and are willing to spend both.