College Summer Classes: Should You Enroll in One?

What to consider when deciding to take a summer class.

Posted Apr 27, 2019

Summer is almost here, and those college students who aren’t graduating this year may be wondering whether taking a summer course is a good idea. But—and it’s a big but—most summer sessions are four to six weeks long, so the material will be presented at a brisk pace. Keep this fact in mind.

Why take a summer course? Undergraduates often take summer courses—in psychology or any other subject—for a variety good reasons, including:

  • Getting ahead in their major requirements
  • Repeating a course they dropped or received a poor or failing grade
  • Working ahead in order to graduate a semester early
  • Completing a required general education course (e.g., art history)
  • Finally getting to a long-postponed required course that is seen as difficult (e.g., chemistry, calculus)
  • Taking a course out of genuine interest (yes, really)

Taking a summer course or even two usually seems like a good idea; however, students should ask themselves the following questions:

1. Would I learn and retain more information at a slower pace in this course in a regular semester? If the course material is important or even critical to your major, the quicker pace of a summer course may not be helpful to you where learning or even a grade is concerned.

2. Do you have the time to do well in the course? Most students probably have a summer job (or even two jobs) that already occupies much of their time. If you don’t have enough time available to complete the reading and all the assignments (on time) and to do well on quizzes and exams, taking a summer course may not be a good idea.

3. Are you disciplined enough to work steadily and frequently when you only have one course? Regrettably, some students believe a summer course will be a breeze, so they don’t work hard or seriously in it, because they feel they have lots of free time available. If you need structure, then a summer course may not be for you.

4. Should you enroll in a traditional face-to-face course or take an online offering? Discipline matters here, too. Traditional courses provide structure—students have to show up to the class, take notes, and so on. Online courses can be done (or so it seems) “anytime” and are perceived to be easier. The truth is that most online offerings are much more challenging than traditional courses. It is easy to fall behind quickly. Indeed, many students sign up for online courses, because they already performed poorly in the face-to-face version. Ironically, many of them repeat a failing performance a second time online. If you are not a “self-starter,” then don’t take an online course.

5. Check the calendar and the syllabus. How many weeks does the course meet? How much reading, homework, papers and other assignments, and exams occur each week (yes, week!). Remember, summer courses are paced faster—instead of a chapter or two a week, most courses will do a chapter or two (sometimes more) per class. If you cannot work at that pace because you have a job or other commitments, then taking a summer class may not be in your long-term interest.

Why not speak to your academic adviser and see if he or she believes that doing a summer course makes sense for you? Share a copy of the course description and, ideally, obtain a copy of the course syllabus. Summer classes can be great, and they can help you meet your academic needs, but only if you know what’s involved in doing well. Good luck.