Ask a Professor: Should You Take Winter-Session Classes?

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated January 21, 2022

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Ask a Professor: Should You Take Winter-Session Classes?


College students often have the option to take classes between semesters. While most undergraduates know about summer classes, they may not realize that many schools also offer winter courses.

Winter session, sometimes called winter intersession or January term, runs for 3-4 weeks over winter break. Winter classes typically start between mid-December and early January, depending on your school's schedule. During winter session, undergraduates can take 1-2 classes in an accelerated format.

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Ready to start your journey?

But should you take winter-session classes? Before signing up for winter session, consider whether it's the best choice for you.

3 Pros of Winter-Session Classes in College

Some of the biggest benefits of enrolling in winter courses include graduating faster and earning credits in just a few short weeks.

You Can Graduate Faster

College students typically complete about 30 credits a year. Adding a winter-session class, however, can boost that number to 33-36 credits.

Since undergraduates need around 120 credits to earn a bachelor's degree, taking winter courses can mean graduating faster. Enrolling in summer classes can also help undergraduates earn their degrees faster.

You'll Learn in an Accelerated Format

Winter intersession classes use an accelerated format so students complete a full semester of work in a matter of weeks. The format means long class sessions and extra hours outside class.

That can be a major pro for undergrads who need to check off general education or prerequisite courses. However, some students may struggle to keep up with the pace of winter courses.

You'll Likely Have Flexible Enrollment Options

Many colleges offer multiple delivery formats for intersession classes. Students may be able to enroll online, attend classes on campus, or study in a hybrid format. Some schools even offer winter study abroad experiences for credit.

Online winter classes often give students more flexibility. For example, an online format may work well for students who travel home for winter break.

3 Cons of Winter-Session Classes in College

Even with the benefits mentioned above, winter courses come with potential drawbacks that college students should consider before enrolling.

They Can Cause Burnout

After getting through finals week, who wants to go back to studying right away? Jumping into winter session can mean missing out on a break from academics when students might need it most, resulting in burnout.

Undergrads might also miss out on seeing family and friends because of the demands of winter courses. Without time to refresh and recharge, students risk experiencing more stress.

You May Miss Out on Work Opportunities

Winter break is a great time for college students to find a temporary job or take on more hours at their usual job. And the holidays are an especially busy time of year for retail and restaurant workers.

Signing up for winter-session classes can mean missing out on work opportunities. For students who primarily rely on their income to cover college costs and living expenses, taking winter courses might not be worth it.

There May Be Fewer Course Options

Large universities offer thousands of courses in a typical term. But winter session typically means far fewer course options.

As a result, students may not be able to take courses in their major or register for specific classes. However, many schools do offer general education requirements during intersession, so students can often find options that meet graduation requirements.

Should You Enroll in Winter Session in College?

If you're still debating whether to sign up for a class during winter intersession, consider your specific circumstances. Do you need a break after the semester to recharge, spend time with family, or get in extra hours at work? Or do you feel ready to jump into an accelerated class?

Research what classes and enrollment formats your school offers. Some students prefer online classes over in-person courses for shorter sessions.

If your school doesn't offer the classes you want, check with other colleges. Many open their winter-session classes to everyone rather than restricting them to enrolled students. Before signing up for winter session at another school, check that the credits will transfer.

Finally, consider your financial aid options. The federal student aid program does not consider winter session a full term. That said, students can often use their financial aid to pay for winter courses by contacting their school's financial aid office.

Some students find the accelerated pace and timing of winter session challenging. For other students, winter session is a great way to get ahead and cross graduation requirements off their list.

Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Session

When do winter classes start?

At most schools, winter session lines up with the dates of winter break. Classes may start as early as mid-December or as late as early January. Schools with a later start date for spring semester may also offer a January session. Check with your college for the specific start date for winter courses.

How many courses can you take during winter session?

Most colleges cap the number of courses students can take in winter session at 1-2 classes. Since winter session uses an accelerated format, students should avoid taking too many courses at once.

How long are winter classes?

Winter-session classes typically run 3-4 weeks, or throughout winter break. In that time, students cover material equivalent to a semesterlong course. Check with your school for specific information on the dates and length of winter courses.

Does FAFSA-based financial aid cover winter classes?

Students may qualify for federal financial aid to cover winter courses. Before signing up for winter session, reach out to your financial aid office to discuss your options. Even though winter session may not qualify as a full term, your financial aid office can adjust your aid package to help cover the cost of winter session.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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