The Benefits of Taking Online Classes in the Summer
For most students, summer is a time to take a break, relax or work to save some cash between semesters. But with more and more summer classes being offered online, students can pursue coursework in the offseason without give up their summer break to earn extra credits, make up courses, pursue an early graduation or focus on an especially difficult course. Here are some of the biggest benefits to taking online courses in the summer:
How are Online Summer Classes Different?
There are plenty of benefits to enrolling in summer courses, but conquering condensed, concentrated classes with no break from the spring semester while the bulk of your peers are enjoying their time off might not be for everyone. Before enrolling, it's important to understand the difference between online summer classes and those offered during the regular semester — and to understand what to expect before you commit.
Online Summer Classes and Transfer Credits
If you are leaning toward summer enrollment, it's important to understand that you're not limited only to courses offered at your home school. In many cases, distance learners can save money and expand their academic options by enrolling in summer sessions elsewhere, from a local community college to Harvard. You may have to search for equivalent courses and apply for admission, but credits can be transferred to your home school. Take a look at why you might want to consider taking online summer courses at another school below, but remember, it's always best to speak with an academic advisor before making any final decisions.
Take Community College Courses while Attending a 4-Year School
Summer is a busy time for many community colleges because they welcome outside students from four-year colleges and universities to participate in online courses. Some online learners turn to community colleges for supplemental summer courses that aren't available at their home schools. Others take their preferred courses at a community college to save money. It's important to note that even when credits transfer successfully, grades earned at a community college generally don't affect a student's GPA at the home school.
Expanded Options through Statewide Community College Networks
Many community colleges operate as part of statewide networks, or consortiums. These consortiums open the state's entire network of community colleges to distance learners who enroll in any one college. The Mississippi Virtual Community College (MVCC), for example, is a 15-school consortium throughout the state. By enrolling for a summer course at an MVCC school like Mississippi Delta Community College, a student could participate in courses offered by any of the 15 schools within the network.
Take a 'Practice Run' on a Tough Course
The City University of New York is one of many colleges to report that their most popular summer courses are not fluffy electives, but hefty endeavors like math and science, which require a significant amount of work. That's because students on leave from pricier private schools often use summer online courses as test balloons for classes that require heavy lifting in the regular semester. Why? The logic is that even if they fail the course, it’s more cost-effective than re-taking it for full price twice.
Use a Summer Course as a GPA Saver
Many summer courses are offered on a pass/fail basis even when the same course is graded following a traditional structure during the fall or spring semesters. This way, students only have to pass an online course during the summer without any impact on their GPAs, which might otherwise have been lowered if the student passed the course, but with poor grade.
The Best Classes to Save for Summer Semester
What's the best online class to take in the summer? The short answer is, it depends who you ask. Take advice from students who have been there before. We’ve narrowed down a variety of student perspectives and experiences that might help you choose which methodology for taking online summer classes is right for you.
The Best Classes to Save for Summer if You Want to…
Get the easy stuff out of the way
Pre-requisite classes or electives can be a nuisance during semesters full of tougher coursework. Some students use online summer courses to knock out these classes to keep their fall and spring semester schedule less cluttered. When you enter the fall semester, you'll be able to concentrate on the heavy lifting.
- 1 or 101 Level classes
- Physical education
I took speech, interpersonal communications, Spanish 1, macroeconomics and Pharmacology for Technicians over the different summers I was enrolled in [Community College]. I like to take the harder classes during the fall/spring when you're not on abbreviated sessions.
Pharmacist, Student Doctor Network
Take classes that are too popular to get into during the regular semester
One of the great things about summer sessions is that there is far less competition for the courses that tend to fill up quickly during the regular semester. Many students use the summer to finally take an online class that always seems to be closed in the fall or spring.
- Niche topic courses
[At UCLA] Scan 50W (Introduction to Scandinavian Literatures and Cultures) is way easier to get in the summer.
University of California Los Angeles Student, UCLA Reddit
Use the time to explore something new or fun
By pursuing a fun, exciting course that stokes your passions and piques your interests, you can earn credits while feeling like you still got to enjoy your summer. This "break" can be especially helpful for pre-med students and others who are anticipating long, challenging academic pursuits ahead.
- Creative Writing
- Film Studies
Take something easy and fun. You can finish your pre-med requirements later. Enjoy the summer.
Medical Student, Student Doctor Network
Take lab-mandatory classes that have heavy workloads or are tricky to schedule
Some classes, especially science classes, require students to participate in additional labs. Since labs can interfere with regular course scheduling, and may require a lot of work, students may consider attacking their lab-mandatory classes in the summer.
- Organic chemistry
I did biology and it was great because a lab science can really mess up your schedule in a regular semester.
College Reddit User
Focus on classes that feel overwhelming during the regular semester
Students often put off taking courses they dread because they worry it will be too difficult. Summer sessions offer students the chance to zero-in on the courses they find most challenging.
- Foreign language
- Advanced Programming
If you're only doing one class do something hard like calculus, a programming class, or one of your foreign language classes (if you don't already have it from high school) so you can just focus on that.
Florida International University Student, College Reddit
Use the summer as a chance to tackle your prerequisites
Many schools require students to complete pre-requisite courses before they can enter their programs of choice or move onto upper-division coursework within a major. For example, in order to enter into the professional Doctor of Optometry (OD) program at the State University of New York College of Optometry, students must complete prerequisites like general physics, calculus and statistics. Summer offers the opportunity to tackle these courses to pave the way to enter the program in the fall.
- General social sciences (Psychology, Sociology)
- Lower-division mathematics
- General computer courses
I think pre-requisites prepare you for the workload in future classes
Freshman Student, Aurora University
Paying for Online Summer Classes
Summer courses can be cheaper than regular semester offerings of the same course — particularly if a student paying private school or out-of-state tuition takes advantage of online offerings from a less expensive or in-state college or university for the summer. Beyond that, students interested in summer study have a range of options in the form of financial aid, grants, special discounts and other programs.
Expert Advice: Summer Course Q&A with a College Advisor
Lindsay Muzzy, LCPC, M.A., is an independent college admission coach. She works as a financial aid consultant and CSS profile specialist for My College Planning Team, an education consulting consortium based in the Chicago area. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Kansas in 2003, a Master’s in Community Counseling with Type 73 certification from Roosevelt University in 2008 and a Master’s in School Administration from Northeastern Illinois University in 2013. She is a licensed school counselor, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and serves as a part of the Master Counselor Advisory Committee for Chicago Public Schools.
How many classes & credits can I take vs. how many should I take in the summer?
How many classes students should or could take depends greatly on the capabilities of the student both academically and financially. Most students would take no more than two classes over the summer as they can be incredibly condensed with a greater workload than the traditional semester-long classes. It should also be considered what the classes are and the students aptitude within that subject area.
Can I transfer to a four-year college after taking summer courses elsewhere? What are the benefits of this?
Traditionally, classes at a two-year college are much less expensive than that of a four-year institution. Therefore, if you have met with your academic advisor at the four-year university and gained assurance that the credits will transfer, it can be a great idea to get non-major credits out of the way. Students who struggle in specific content areas (for example, math), may want to take these classes at a two-year college where classes are typically a bit easier. These grades, if non-major specific and within the first 60 hours of your undergraduate course work, can transfer in and help your overall GPA within the school.
Can taking summer classes at a community college really save money?
Yes! However, students should be aware that they may have to pay out-of-pocket for these classes if they have used up all of their federal and state grants or loan money. While community college can be less expensive, it may not be worth the investment if students are required to pay out-of-pocket or take an additional loan.
Are the workloads, requirements and expectations different in summer courses than what a student would encounter in a regular semester?
Generally, the workloads are greater during the summer as the classes are condensed. This may mean they meet more often than traditional classes will or may have more out-of-class work to be completed. The requirements and expectations are typically the same as the class during the school year.