Summer Semester: When Does It Start? And Should You Enroll?
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- Usually optional, summer term may feature shorter, more intensive courses.
- Some colleges' summer sessions last as little as four weeks.
- You could earn your degree faster by racking up credits over the summer.
Once school's out in May or June, college campuses quickly drain of undergrads, leaving the once-buzzing buildings and lawns to professors, grad students, and the heat of the sun.
But the summer months present a golden opportunity to earn college credit and even potentially save on tuition and other costs.
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At U.S. colleges, the summer semester is a shorter, generally optional term that's not considered part of a traditional academic year. But when does the summer semester start exactly? And how can enrolling in summer classes benefit you?
When Does Summer Semester Start?
Summer term normally starts in May or June, a week or two after spring term's conclusion.
For schools on the semester system, the traditional academic year consists of two terms (fall semester and spring semester) that generally run from August to May. For schools on the quarter system, the traditional academic year comprises three terms (fall, winter, and spring) that typically go from September to June.
Summer credits count just the same as those earned during the regular school year.
How Long Is Summer Semester?
Summer term varies in length depending on the school.
For quarter-system colleges, summer term is often the same length as fall, winter, and spring terms: around 10 weeks. For semester-based colleges, which have 15-week terms, the summer semester may be significantly shorter.
What's more, many colleges — on both scheduling systems — divide summer terms into multiple summer sessions, which can be as short as four weeks.
At first glance, a four-week term may sound like a breeze, but while the term duration may be short, expected student engagement may be deep. Summer courses tend to have longer classes or more class sessions per week.
Despite their intensity, summer courses often entail fewer in-class hours. For that reason, summer-term classes may award fewer credits than classes completed during the traditional school year.
Still, these short but intensive timelines and staggered start dates offer many benefits, including the ability to earn extra credits. Opting to enroll each summer can help you graduate early, allowing you to get your bachelor's degree in 3-3.5 years instead of four.
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Can You Start College in the Summer?
While many associate the first day of college with fall, some schools permit accepted students to start the summer before they normally would.
According to the University of Southern Florida, summer is the second most common start term for incoming college students.
Getting a summer's headstart can help you find your rhythm at school before the campus population surges and other anxious first-year students can color your experiences.
Not only will you be bagging credits before most other new folks, but you'll technically enter your first fall term as a returning student. This seniority might give you priority when registering for classes, which can be a big perk when it comes to enrolling in required courses that tend to fill up fast!
Pros and Cons of Taking Summer Classes
Summer is a special time, but deciding what to do with it can be daunting. There's a lot to be said for spending your summer taking courses, but there are also potential drawbacks.
Take time to weigh the pluses, such as getting extra face time with professors, against the minuses, like fewer course offerings and a potential lack of financial aid.
- Some schools have unique course offerings during the summer
- A lower student-to-teacher ratio means more opportunities to get to know professors
- Abbreviated term length
- Summer credits may cost less
- Fewer students could mean easier parking, emptier libraries, and more peace and quiet
- Fewer course offerings
- Professors often use summers to write or conduct research; those with classes over the summer may not prioritize teaching
- More frequent and/or longer classes
- Financial aid and scholarships may not apply to summer courses
- Small college towns tend to turn into ghost towns
Should You Take Classes During Summer Term?
Taking college classes over the summer is usually optional — many students go four (or more!) years without ever enrolling in a summer-term class. But for some, taking a class or two over the summer semester can be a wise decision.
If you rely on financial aid that doesn't stretch over the summer, or you'd prefer to spend those months relaxing, working, or completing an internship, it's likely best to forgo the summer semester. Campus will be waiting for you come fall.
But if you are behind in credits, are staying on or near campus anyway, or want to condense your college career, consider enrolling in summer classes.
Summer term can help you leapfrog ahead of learners who stick to the traditional academic year, potentially earning credits at discount rates while establishing stronger connections with professors who can help prepare you for success in school and beyond.