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Taking College Classes in the Summer

Vicki Nelson

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Most college students are in the home stretch of the semester and looking forward to the end of classes, finishing finals, and heading into those lazy, hazy days of summer. It’s been a long year for everyone.

Summer may mean relaxing at the beach, adventuring, vacationing, completing an internship, or working to earn money to pay for the next year of college. But for some students, summer may be the time to head back to the classroom.

College summer classes can offer students an opportunity to explore new areas, make up some credits, or get ahead.

What questions should your student consider?

If your student is thinking about a summer class, these five questions can provide a good starting point.

  1. Should I take a class at my school or another? 
The answer to this question may depend on whether you plan to take a class online or in person. Obviously, if you want an in-person class and attend school far from home, you will need to factor in housing, but many schools offer their summer programs fully online. If it is an option, taking a class at your own institution can make sense because you won’t need to transfer credits.
  2. What if I take a class at another school?
 If you decide to take a class at another school, perhaps at a local college or community college, you need to first make sure it is a “new-to-you” class. Different schools often give different titles to the same class. So a class in Basic Chemistry at one school may be Chemistry I or Chemical Concepts at another school. Before registering for a class at another school, make sure you haven’t already taken something similar. You won’t be able to earn credit for the same course twice.
  3. What credits will my home institution accept? 
You will need to ask your school’s registrar to confirm that they will accept the credits in transfer. Be sure to check on this before taking the class. (And then don’t forget to ask to have a transcript sent after completing the course.)
  4. What will it cost to take this class? 
Don’t automatically assume that a community college class is less expensive or that a class at a private college will cost more. The tuition for summer classes is often less than during the regular semester. Be sure to compare actual costs.
  5. Do my loans or financial aid cover summer school costs? Financial aid may not cover the costs of summer classes. Always check first.

What are the advantages of taking summer classes?

There are some definite advantages to taking a class or two during the summer months. Help your student think through whether these make sense for them.

  • Summer classes are generally short and sweet. There are different formats — a class may be a 2-week intensive, or last only 4–6 weeks. This shorter format can help many students stay focused since it isn’t stretched over an entire semester. Students do need to remember, however, that the shorter format means that the work is more intensive as well.
  • Students taking classes in the summer generally take only one, or at most two, classes at a time. Not having to juggle four or five classes helps many students stay focused.
  • Summer classes are often smaller, more relaxed and informal, allowing students to more easily get to know and work with their professors.
  • It's sometimes easier to get into popular classes in the summer. It may also be easier to access services such as tutoring or library services.
  • Taking a summer class can be a great way to complete prerequisites or Gen Ed requirements to allow you to take more interesting upper-level classes in the future.
  • Taking a summer class can help with continuity of learning. You can stay in study mode and “school sharp” and not have as great an adjustment returning to the classroom in the fall. A summer class can also help you solidify material that you learned in the spring that you will need to build on in the fall.
  • Taking a summer class is a great way to accumulate extra credits, putting some students on a track to graduate early.
  • Summer is the perfect time to casually explore an area of interest or subject just for fun.
  • Summer classes can help students raise their GPA. If you take the summer class at your own institution, a strong summer grade can raise your GPA. If you retake a class you have failed, the new grade may replace the failing grade. You need to remember, however, that if you take the course at another institution, the credits transfer, but the grade usually does not.
  • Taking a difficult class over the summer at another institution and transferring it in can bring in those credits while protecting your GPA. Check to see what the minimum required grade is to transfer a class. (It's often a C, but each school has different requirements.)
  • Taking a class at another institution gives you a chance to learn from and get to know other experts in your chosen field. You'll be exposed to new professors, ideas and perspectives.

Are there any downsides to taking a summer class?

Summer classes are not for everyone, and factors that are advantages for one student may be disadvantages for another. Here are a six things for your student to consider.

  1. While it's nice to have a shorter class that lasts only a few weeks, the course material is usually the same. This means that the work is more intense and will take significant study time.
  2. If the class is online, especially if it is an asynchronous class, you will need to be organized and disciplined and work at time management. This can be especially difficult during the summer when socializing and/or a summer jobs can be distractions. Get tips for preparing for online class success here >
  3. There may be fewer course options in the summer.
  4. Taking a summer class, or two, can mean a shorter break over the summer — or no break at all. While this may help some students, others need a break from studying to relax and recharge.
  5. Financial aid may not cover summer classes. You may need to pay for these classes up front.
  6. You may or may not be able to work around a demanding summer job or family vacation commitments.

Whether your student is thinking about a summer class to get ahead, make up some credits, complete requirements, or just do something different, there’s lots to consider. Help them think through whether a summer class should be part of their summer plans.

Learn more about how summer classes can give your college student an academic boost >

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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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