Written by S.M. Audsley

“You have to stay in school. You have to. You have to get your degree. Because that’s the only thing people can’t take away from you is your education. And it is worth the investment,” said Michelle Obama, best-selling author, activist, lawyer, and former First Lady to the United States. Being able to complete a four-year undergraduate degree after high school, or even a graduate degree, are not small achievements. Many people assume that you will automatically go straight to college after high school, but this is not a given. Some students delay starting higher education programs for financial reasons, or join the workforce first, then they choose a career path that requires specialized training and school degree program. Summer courses at colleges and universities can provide students with many benefits and help them achieve their academic goals and launch their career paths. 

Summer courses are classes offered during the summer months at colleges and universities (and some schools also offer similar 'winter courses'). Generally they are short courses that compress a lot of material into a shorter amount of time. Some are available in-person and some are offered as online courses. All summer courses help students advance their academic studies and achieve certifications or degrees. Most schools offer an array of options for students to take classes in the summer, and some degree programs, due to the course load, even require students to enroll in a summer session. For example, rigorous programs such as those in medical schools, and many of the healthcare fields of study, often require students take a summer practicum or be enrolled in courses during the summer. 

Regardless of the degree program, there are clear advantages for students to take summer courses. It’s important to remember to do your research ahead of time and to consider all your options. Summer courses might make the most sense and help you along your academic and professional path. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to enrolling in summer courses. 

1. Achieve your goals faster and graduate ahead of schedule

Many students want to set themselves up for success and try to graduate early to save on overall tuition costs. By enrolling in summer courses, students are able to achieve their goals faster and ahead of schedule. Depending on the degree program, students who enroll in summer courses are normally able to graduate a semester earlier than the normal traditional track schedule. This can be extremely cost-effective -- saving students thousands on tuition fees and college costs. 

The Princeton Review explains, “Summer classes have an accelerated pace [so] read your syllabus carefully. Mark test dates and deadlines for major assignments on a calendar and work backwards. Don't forget to include work shifts, concerts, and other fun stuff, so you have a clear picture of what you truly have going on. Devote a chunk of time each night to preparing for what's coming up next.” You will want to balance a social life in the summer, too. Often times summer courses are short-term and compressed, so you’ll likely be able to find some time to spend at the beach in-between classes. Remember, summer courses help you get ahead of schedule, and mean graduating faster. 

2. Study strategically and pace yourself

Summer courses help students pace themselves and distribute a heavy course load. They are especially helpful if you are enrolling in an intense, demanding program. Summer courses allow you to pace yourself and strategically plan your overall degree program. For example, if you are pre-med and have to take organic chemistry -- one of the more demanding and challenging courses for med students -- consider taking it over the summer to help you both retain the information better and to help you get a better grade. Taking these courses without a full semester course load in competition for your time and attention helps you excel. Basically, summer courses allow you to “divide and conquer” the challenging classes, setting you up for success in the long-run. 

“Some students may want to complete a prerequisite so that they can take another course in the fall, or may want to take a course that wasn’t available another semester,” reports Vicki Nelson for CollegeParentCentral.com. Additionally, Stanford News explains, “applying a strategic approach to studying helped college students improve their exam scores by an average of one-third of a letter grade.” Also, taking a summer course, since they generally have smaller class sizes, can provide you with more personal and focused attention from the professor.

3. Access in-person or online summer courses 

In-person or online courses? Both have their advantages. Online summer courses are fast-paced and you can work from the comfort of your own home, or from your sun-tanning lounge chair at the beach -- wherever! Online summer courses are becoming more popular due to their flexible schedule and self-directed nature. With that being said, some students prefer in-person classes; pick whichever works best for you and your schedule.

“I believe that some students may even learn more during a summer course because it is a shorter time span and they are able to consolidate their learning of a subject instead of spanning it across a semester. The faculty are excellent and excel at teaching, regardless of the length of the course,” says Dr. Betsy St. Pierre, a summer course professor.

4. Advance your skills with an internship or study abroad program

Summer courses can be further enriched by studying abroad or signing up for an internship. Through either of these options, you gain valuable experience and knowledge that makes you more employable and a more attractive candidate on the job market. “Many study abroad programs take place during the summer, so depending on what your school offers, it could be your best opportunity. Studying abroad offers an experience like no other, and it may be something you want to seriously consider doing during your college career,” suggests College Ave Student Loans. 

As an international student in a summer study abroad program, you’ll have the opportunity to experience life in glamorous new surroundings. If you want to properly immerse yourself in the unique art, culture, nightlife, cuisine, fashion, and dynamic entrepreneurial environments of another country, then what better way than to spend a few weeks there as a (temporary) local? You’ll also be able to advance your studies towards completing your degree while on your study abroad program. 

Also, internship opportunities often complement summer courses nicely. An internship can help you get ahead in the job market and also give you invaluable real-world experience that is attractive to employers. Some summer courses combine studies with internships.

Two Scottish students have been selected to go to summer school at world-leading Harvard. One of the teenagers chosen, Andi Stannard, 17, said, “I have to keep reminding myself that it is happening to me. When I applied for the summer school, I never allowed myself to believe I would make it past the first hurdle.”

5. Pay attention to the specifics of summer course options

Madison Hallett, for Unigo, recommends, “If you’re behind on credits or need to re-take a class, summer is the perfect time to do it. It’s faster and won’t get in the way of your regular schedule,” and she points out that “Some classes are popular and hard to get into during the regular school year, but probably not during the summer. If you can’t get in any other time, try registering for the summer class.”

You’ll want to pay attention to specific details for the summer courses you’re signing up for. Some don’t offer financial aid or tuition assistance. “Because summer classes are short (generally about six weeks), there is very little room for flexibility on attendance. Missing even one class can put a student significantly behind, and could affect the student’s grade. Students need to be careful regarding vacations or other summer obligations,” says Viki Nelson, for CollegeParentCentral.com. 

Overall, enrolling in summer courses has a lot of advantages. As a student attempting to complete a degree program, summer courses shouldn’t be something you overlook. In fact, enrolling in a summer course, or two, might help you jumpstart your career. Learning and studying in today’s fast-paced, constantly changing world means you have more options and avenues to achieve your goals, both personally and academically...

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