Should I Take Summer Courses? The Pros and Cons of Studying During the Summer

By Logan Bright Modified on April 01, 2024
Tags : Academics | News

Choosing the right path will depend on your program, your grades, and your goals.

Should I Take Summer Courses? The Pros and Cons of Studying During the Summer

Summer is well on its way, and you're probably already looking ahead to the end of the spring semester, to days spent lounging on the beach, strolling in the sunshine, or doing plain-ol' nothing at all — or maybe you're planning to work full- or part-time, or even do some volunteering.

You may also be wondering whether it's a good idea to take summer courses. The answer is up to you, and will depend on your program, grades, and goals. To help you decide, we've gathered a list of the most common pros and cons to taking summer courses. Check them out, and get in touch with an academic advisor at your school to learn more.

Pros of studying through the summer

Here are some of the most common reasons you may want to consider taking summer courses.

1. You can earn credits faster

Most degree and diploma programs measure overall progress by the number of credits you earn. A course at a given university or college may be worth a full or a half credit, and you'll need a certain number of credits to be eligible for graduation.

If you take a course or two during the summer semester, you'll earn these credits more quickly, so you'll be able to graduate sooner. For example, at the University of Toronto, I finished a four year honours degree in just three years by taking several courses each summer.

Going this route also helps you stay "in the groove" of school, meaning it won't be so difficult to come back in September after the end of summer vacation!

2. You can give extra time and attention to tough subjects

You may have a suite of difficult courses on your plate, like organic chemistry, advanced mathematics, or computer science, that may demand more focus than others.

Rather than trying to fit these challenging subjects into your regular timetable, alongside the rest of your courses, you could take just one or two during the summer. This might give you more time to breathe and really dig into the material, which could improve your grades — and your understanding of the subject.

3. You can get make-up courses done without affecting your regular timetable

If you've struggled with a course or two, and didn't get the grades you wanted — or even flunked the course entirely — you may be looking at a make-up class. Summer is a good opportunity to tackle the things that didn't go perfectly the first time.

By doing a make-up course over the summer, you'll have another chance to earn the credit and be ready for any follow-up courses in the fall or winter semesters, because you'll already have the prerequisites done.

4. Class sizes are much smaller, making networking easier

Lots of students hate the word "networking" — it's enough to spike some folks' anxiety — but at its heart, networking means getting to know the people around you. This might be easier in smaller summer courses!

Take some time to get to know your classmates, and especially your instructors. Getting a reference letter from an instructor who knows you is a lot easier!

5. You can fill some hours during the summer

Summer jobs might be scarce again this year — same with volunteer opportunities. You could find yourself without much to do each day. Studying may not be the most exciting way to spend a bit of your summer, but it may well be worth your time!

Cons of studying through the summer

Here are some of the most common reasons you might decide against studying during summer.

1. The material is condensed and faster-paced

Because summer semester courses take place over a smaller timeframe, courses are typically accelerated. This means you'll cover the same amount of material — with the same amount of projects, tests, essays, and so on — in as little as half the time of a comparable fall or winter semester course.

This pace can be exhausting, and it may mean multiple meetings of the course each week, with assignments due every few days. If you fall behind, it can be tough to catch up on such a relentless schedule.

2. Some programs expect you to take a full course load each fall and winter semester

This is more common at the post-grad level, and depends on your program, but sometimes you'll be expected to maintain a full course load each fall and winter.

This is a way for schools to ensure you're ready for professional responsibilities after graduation, but it means you won't be able to "get ahead" by taking a few credits during the summer. Pay close attention to the requirements if you're heading into a program with a professional designation, like medicine or law.

In fact, certain scholarships or bursaries may require you to maintain a full-time course load to be eligible for funding. Be aware of the restrictions of any awards you might have received!

3. Courses may be at awkward or inconvenient times

Though many summer courses are offered online, they may still be scheduled at unfortunate times. You may not want to commit to a virtual lecture that runs from 7 to 10 pm, after all. This may be less of an issue with online learning than in-person, but read the course schedule closely before you sign up, just in case.

4. The course you desire may not be offered in the first place

Most schools won't offer every program during the summer semester. Indeed, you may not have access to the course(s) you want to take. You may have to be strategic to get the most out of your time, perhaps by focusing on electives rather than core courses, depending on what's available.

5. You'll have less time to work and relax

This is the big one for many students, and the reason most don't take summer courses at all: studying over the break means less time for yourself.

If you need to work full-time through the summer to help afford school, summer courses can be more stressful than they're worth. Even if you're only working part-time, a summer course or two can eat up other parts of your day you'd rather not give up — or conflict entirely, depending on your schedule.

If you're not working through the summer, you may still want to enjoy a break during the warm weather, without the burden of yet more responsibilities at school. It's hard to completely relax when you know you've got assignments coming due!

Whether taking summer courses is right for you is a decision only you can make. It will depend on your program, your grades, and your goals — not to mention the specific courses offered by your school in the summer. It's definitely something to consider, though, as we get closer to deadlines for course signups.

If you're not sure whether studying through the summer semester is a good idea, get in touch with the academic advisory office at your school and book an appointment to discuss your options.

Good luck, and no matter what you decide to do, enjoy your summer!

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