My College:

A Summer Break Academic Boost

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.

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Last summer I enrolled my son (an incoming freshman) in college algebra. It’s a requirement for his major, and I thought he would benefit from “easing into” college with one class — he’d learn how to navigate a class online and gain confidence taking a course in a subject he enjoyed in high school.

Truthfully, I was concerned that his first semester would be challenging as he juggled a new environment along with the expectations of intensive classes. I wanted him to feel less overwhelmed.

Plus, I wasn’t really excited for him to sit around the house all summer playing Minecraft. I also wanted to set the tone that summers are no longer solely about fun and games but can and should be an integral part of getting ready for life after graduation.

As an educator who teaches first-year students how to plan their degrees so they can graduate on time, it sometimes takes a little nudging to get them to see summer as more than just a break for travel or work. But summer can be so much more if your student is willing to dedicate a little time to continue learning.

Get Ahead or Catch Up

One reason a majority of students who earn a bachelor’s degree don’t finish in four years is that they’re not able to complete enough credit hours each semester to stay on track.

Taking classes in the summer can give them a credit-hour cushion in case they need to drop a class or in the unfortunate event, they fail a class.

Taking one or two classes during a shorter term also allows your student to focus on the limited subject matter, improve their GPA, and practice academic skills that can help them build long-term confidence.

Taking a summer class requires planning, though. Here are some tips for making the most of the summer term:

  • Research what’s offered. At most institutions, there is a limited number of summer classes, so be sure your student chooses classes that are needed for their degree. An advisor can be very helpful in reviewing the scheduling and choosing the best options.
  • Commit to the time. Your student needs to have the time to take summer classes without interruptions. If they cannot take classes for several hours a day over the course of several weeks, they may need to rethink the summer term. Don’t schedule a vacation or a job during summer classes.
  • Remember, summer is fast-paced. There is a reason that students are limited to very few credit hours they can take in a summer term. Summer courses cover the same amount of material at two or three times the speed of a regular semester! Most classes will require daily attendance and evenings and weekends filled with studying.

Improve Academic Skills

Summer classes can also help your student home in on specific academic skills that need strengthening, especially if they struggled in a similar class previously.

Here are ways your student can use the summer to improve those skills:

  • Get a tutor. Check with the tutoring center for one-on-one help or connect with classmates for recommendations. If your student enrolls (or re-enrolls) in a class that challenged them, using a tutor throughout the term can be a great way to get just-in-time support.
  • Set goals. What does your student want to improve? Suggest that your student create specific, measurable goals and tasks. If they want to increase the amount of time they study, they should record when and how long they plan to study each day. Then, they can check their progress.
  • Check in. If your student takes a summer class, they should regularly check in with their professor to determine how they are doing. This is especially important if they’ve struggled in classes before or if the course is challenging. Professors want to help their students. “How am I doing so far?” or “What advice can you give me for improving my grade?” are good questions to ask.

If your student needs to work during the summer or has a great opportunity for an internship or travel, then, of course, encourage them to do that. However, if they have the time to use summer to move ahead in their degree, catch up or improve their skills, help them see summer as the key to their college success.

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Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., is a Senior Lecturer in the Student Transitions department at the University of Central Arkansas. She is co-author of "A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials" and lead author of "College Success" (OpenStax), a free online student success book. Amy and her husband are parents of a college graduate and a current student. She blogs at
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