Your Guide to Taking On a Summer Semester

Just like everything in college, there is a variety of options for where students can take the classes they’re interested in over the summer.

Laura Magerkurth

May 04, 2015

Your Guide to Taking On a Summer Semester

It’s that time of year again: the sun is shining, the air is warm and people are spending their free moments throwing a Frisbee or playing hacky sack on the quad. The semester isn’t over, but for many of us crazy college kids it may as well be.

Despite all the end-of-semester demands of school, nothing seems worth giving up even a minute of free time, not even the possibility of raising a grade by a minuscule percentage that we would have killed for earlier in the semester.

Although we’re all thrilled to be nearly finished with the academic year, many of us will be continuing our studies over the summer. There are more who are curious as to what summer school in college entails, but aren’t sure whether it’s a good idea for them or even what choices they have.

Here’s a guide I’ve put together based on my own experiences and those of my friends—it’s by no means exhaustive, but it’ll give you a good start!

Where to Go: Summer Course Options

Just like everything in college, there is a variety of options for where students can take the classes they’re interested in over the summer.

If you’re returning home, you could either take your summer classes online or at a different school—either a community college or another four-year institution.

Option 1: Online Classes
Online courses are appealing to many because of their relaxed nature; there’s no traditional participation grade and no required attendance. Students can also frequently work at their own pace, just as long as they finish all the coursework by the end of the class.

However, you may find that without physically being in a classroom, you forget about the work or don’t take it as seriously as you would in a traditional setting. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies to school as much as anything else, and it’s much easier to put off required reading when the pool is beckoning.

Option 2: Classes at a Different School
Summer classes at a different school, whether at a community college or a four-year school, are another option for the enterprising college student. Before you decide to go this route, make sure your hard-earned credits will transfer to your full-time school!

Attending another institution for just a short period of time can be refreshing and help you put your own experiences at your school into perspective. You’ll also, of course, meet people you likely would never have crossed paths with otherwise.

On the other hand, you might find that the learning environment is vastly different from the one you’re used to—for example, you may have become accustomed to classes of twenty at your private institution, but find yourself in lecture hall filled with 150 of your peers on your first day of summer school—which can be intimidating.

If you choose this route, go to campus before class starts and get the lay of the land. Figure out where your classes will meet (simply the size of the room will likely give you a good idea of the size of the class) and make sure you’re aware of important landmarks.

Option 3: Stay in Town to Take Classes at Your Current School
If you’ve elected to remain in your college town for the summer, you’ll have the option of taking courses at your own school on a campus you’re already familiar with and with professors and other students you may already know.

However, be sure to spend plenty of time off campus studying, working or just exploring to stave off burnout and boredom.

Option 4: Study Abroad
Going abroad is another option that some students take over the summer. There is often course credit that you can get from participating in a study-abroad program, something that is especially beneficial if you’re working towards a minor in a second language or if the trip is offered through your major department.

Most of these programs don’t last all summer, so you’ll have time to hang at home and work at least a little while still getting to see more of the world and a few hours of credit!

What to Take

Again, the first and most important step in deciding what classes to take over the summer is to make sure that whatever you’re taking at a different institution can be transferred to your school for credit.

If the class you want to take isn’t one that’s already transferable, you can probably apply for it to transferable by providing a syllabus and some basic information. The transfer office of your school will be able to give you more information about that.

The best courses to take over the summer are probably general education classes. They’re generally more relaxed anyway, since everyone from every major has to take them, so they won’t pile on a lot of extra stress.

These are also generally easier to transfer from one institution to another, and if you want to take one on your home campus, there will likely be more sections open so you can work around your schedule.

If you’re considering adding a minor or another major, summer classes are generally not the way to start that course load—start off by taking new classes during the academic year.

This way, you’ll get to figure out whether you actually enjoy the topic and you’ll have a better idea of what the class will be like before you have to make the decision of whether to drop.

When to Take It

Depending on the classes you want and where you decide to go, there will likely be several different times that you can take the course.

The summer session may be divided into first and second blocks of the summer, usually from June-July and then July-August, with classes in session in either block.

Of course, the exact dates vary by school and some classes may last both blocks, so keep your schedule in mind—if your family vacation is scheduled for the middle of July, you probably won’t want to take a second-block class!

You might also be able to take an interim class in either May after classes end or August before the semester begins. Since it’s a much shorter period of time, an interim course will probably be fairly intensive—four hours each day for two weeks, for example.

How Much to Pay

The cost of summer school is something that many college students forget about before enrolling. They’re used to paying a certain amount for semester classes, and may assume that because the summer session is shorter, it will cost less. However, this isn’t usually the case.

Even if your school charges semester tuition up to a certain amount (say, you can take 16 hours per semester but if you want to take more you have to pay for the additional credit hours), summer tuition will likely be based entirely on amount of credit hours. This makes sense, but it can catch students off guard, so make sure you know what to expect on your bill.

Another factor that can make a dent in your bank account is the fact that scholarships given by the school often don’t apply to summer semesters—or if you choose to apply them to summer sessions, you will forfeit one semester of scholarship usage during the academic year.

Don’t forget to consider financial factors when planning your summer, and ask your financial aid office if you have any questions specific to your situation.

Just Remember…

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ll likely be working more at a job or an internship than you did during the semester, and it’s not worth it to get burned out over the summer and then be completely exhausted by the time school starts in the fall.

Start with your summer classes and a job, and then if you get bored a few weeks in you can always add something like a volunteer position or a regular babysitting gig.

It may feel like you should fill every waking hour with classwork, jobs and impressive activities for your resume, but it really is important to take some time to relax. We all need balance in our lives, and now is the time to set that balance.

With that in mind, have an excellent summer!

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