Should You Take Summer Classes?

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Should You Take Summer Classes?
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
By Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on May 13, 2021

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As an undergraduate, I spent my summers on campus, working in the university library. Every summer, I watched as waves of students flocked to the library, filling the study tables and darting out for coffee breaks.

Curious about the crowds, I asked my boss why the library was suddenly packed when it had been empty just a week earlier. He explained that out-of-state students paid in-state tuition for summer classes at our public university. Thanks to this massive discount, students swarmed our campus every summer.

Later, when I became a professor, many of my colleagues taught summer classes. With smaller class sizes, an accelerated schedule, and a more relaxed learning environment, most of the professors I knew enjoyed teaching during the summer.

But summer college classes aren't right for everyone. Here, we walk through the biggest factors to consider to help you determine whether spending your summer on campus is the best move for you.

Are Summer Classes Right for You? 5 Factors to Consider

Summer classes can save you money, set you up to graduate early, and help you knock out general education requirements in an accelerated format. But signing up for summer courses can also mean missing out on opportunities like traveling, part-time jobs, and internships.

The pros and cons of summer courses differ for everyone. Ask yourself the following questions before deciding whether summer classes make sense for you and your goals.

Will Summer Classes Save You Money?

Some schools feature hefty tuition discounts for summer classes. For example, Oregon State University charges in-state tuition rates — regardless of a student's residency status — for all on-campus summer classes. This discount translates into nearly $800 in savings per credit, or around $10,000 in savings for out-of-state students who take a full course load in the summer.

But not every college offers tuition discounts for the summer term. Before signing up, look into whether summer classes cost less at your school.

Keep in mind, too, that you aren't limited to summer courses at your current institution. Many students at four-year universities take community college summer classes to meet gen ed requirements at a much lower tuition rate. Speak with your academic advisor to make sure your school will accept credits completed at another institution before signing up for any classes.

Will Summer Classes Preclude You From Other Opportunities?

College students often spend their summers working or completing an internship, and a summer paycheck helps many students budget for school-year expenses. But enrolling in summer classes means you'll likely miss out on these money-making opportunities.

For working students, a more flexible option like online summer classes often fits their schedules better.

Work and internship experience can significantly boost students' post-graduation job prospects. In 2019, more than half of interns landed a full-time job thanks to their experience. What's more, over 60% of interns received a paycheck for their work.

Fortunately, you don't have to pick just one or the other: Many students choose to balance summer classes with an internship or part-time job. For working students, a more flexible option like online summer classes often fits their schedules better than in-person classes.

That said, many schools' summer classes operate on an accelerated schedule, so you may need to set aside more time than usual for coursework.

What Kinds of Summer Classes Can You Take?

Colleges typically limit the courses available during the summer term. At most schools, the fall and spring terms offer the greatest variety of courses, whereas summer provides fewer options.

The term also affects the types of courses offered. For example, advanced courses in your major, including seminars and capstone graduation courses, likely aren't available during the summer. Instead, colleges generally offer lower-division and gen ed courses. Many programs don't offer graduate-level summer classes at all.

By thinking strategically, undergrads can knock out their gen ed requirements in the summer and focus on their major and other upper-division classes during the academic year.

What Enrollment Options Are Available in the Summer?

Does your school offer online summer classes, or are students restricted to in-person options? What other enrollment formats do colleges offer for summer courses? Before turning down a job or internship, look into part-time, online, and evening summer classes.

If your college doesn’t offer many summer classes, consider enrolling at another school for the summer term.

Summer classes typically operate at an accelerated pace. At Michigan State University, students can sign up for full- or half-term summer classes, or opt for even shorter sessions. But even MSU's full-term option clocks in at several weeks shorter than a typical semester. Many schools also offer evening or weekend courses in the summer.

If your college doesn't offer many summer classes, consider enrolling at another school for the summer term. Make sure to research transfer policies so you don't miss out on any credits.

For example, the University of California system lets current students enroll at any other UC campus in the summer, and credits automatically transfer. Many colleges also partner with local community colleges to make the transfer process smoother.

Does Financial Aid Cover Summer Classes?

While students can typically use financial aid to pay for summer classes, financial aid policies vary depending on the school. In the past, Pell Grant recipients could only use their grant money during the academic year. Today, though, the Pell Grant operates on a year-round basis.

Your school's financial aid office can provide information on using your aid during the summer term. Some forms of financial aid require a minimum number of credits — six for the Pell Grant — to qualify for aid.

At some schools, students need to submit an additional application to take out loans for summer tuition. Your institution's financial aid office can also connect you with summer-term financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships and grants.

Succeeding in Summer Classes in College

If you decide to take summer courses, you need to set yourself up for success. There's no point in enrolling in summer classes if you end up withdrawing from or failing a course.

Before you register, consider the best place to take summer classes. Enrolling at your current institution makes signing up and managing financial aid easy, but those on a budget can usually save more by taking community college summer classes.

Consider the best place to take summer classes — those on a budget can usually save more by taking community college summer classes.

Students taking accelerated summer classes should pay close attention to the syllabus and deadlines for assignments and exams. Set aside enough time to attend class, complete reading assignments, and study for tests. The compressed format means the term will fly by, so falling behind early on can make it difficult to catch up.

If you're taking online courses for the first time, research tips and strategies for succeeding in an online class.

Finally, be sure to set aside time to enjoy the summer even while you're in school. Scheduling regular breaks from coursework should help you feel refreshed when you return in the fall.

Feature Image: gradyreese / E+ / Getty Images

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