The Best Reasons to Take
Summer College Courses Online Why Spending Summer in the Classroom Might be Worth It

While summer brings a welcome break from the rigors of academics for most students, enrolling in online summer courses could be the ticket to improving your college experience—without sacrificing your summer vacation. Some students sign up to get ahead on the next semester or grab a seat in a popular class that has a waiting list during the regular schoolyear. Regardless, having the option to take summer classes online gives students freedom to enjoy the summer months and continue learning. Read on to learn why summer enrollment might be right for you.

Meet the Expert

Lindsay Muzzy LCPC, M.A.

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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:

Knock Out Tough Classes with Less Time and Fewer Distractions

Online summer classes teach the same concepts as traditional semester classes, but the lessons are condensed to fit within a four- to six-week term. When it comes to the most difficult classes, this can be beneficial in two ways. Studies show students were more successful in a notoriously challenging organic chemistry summer course because they were more motivated by the more intensive, shorter-term curriculum. Saving a tough class until summer can also mean less distractions, allowing students to focus on one topic instead of a full course load all at once.

For students who are proceeding according to schedule, the addition of online summer classes might enable them to graduate before their planned date. For students who dropped a few courses in the past, took some time off or otherwise fell behind, enrolling in summer courses can help them meet their original graduation date. Students with an eye on early graduation can also take advantage of summer courses by using them to knock out prerequisite coursework.

At many colleges, online summer sessions expose students to educational opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have the chance to experience — and these opportunities aren't limited just to special courses. At Penn State University, for example, some College of Education students can satisfy core requirements by participating in a three-week, inner-city immersion program called the Philadelphia Urban Seminar.

By taking just one or two summer courses online at a time, students can concentrate their focus on subject matter that stokes their passions or requires more dedication than regular coursework. Since class sizes are typically smaller during summer, students can expect to receive more individual attention. Students say they also prefer smaller class sizes because an environment with fewer classmates fosters more intense in-class discussions and stronger out-of-class study opportunities.

According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, enrolling in even a single summer course can provide educational continuity that traditional students miss out on. Since online summer courses start when the spring semester ends, students avoid the long gap in learning that usually takes place over the summer. Without a summer session, most students have to spend critical time in the beginning of the fall semester getting re-acquainted with the routines and rigors of college-level study.

Students considering changing, adding or declaring a new major or minor often find summer to be the perfect time to focus on their new concentration. Students can use online summer courses to dabble in their new course of study to make sure it's right for them or take summer sessions in order to satisfy prerequisite obligations so they can begin the new program without delay in the fall semester. Some may need to take summer courses to catch up on major coursework.

Summer online courses can also be a great way to beef up a resume and impress admissions officers or future employers, who are on the lookout for students who went the extra mile in high school and college. Summer sessions also allow students to free up their fall schedules for internships, which are far less competitive in autumn then they are in summer, when many more students are off and looking for internships.

According to Colorado State University, many students who take summer courses earn a higher summer-term grade point average than in fall and spring terms. This could be because there are less distractions than during the regular school year or fewer extracurricular activities that generally go along with summer study. If summer gives you the opportunity to divide less of your time, it may be the perfect opportunity to take online classes to bring up grades or boost you GPA.

By completing summer courses, particularly one that is difficult and time consuming, students can relieve the pressure that comes with the return of the hustle and bustle of the fall semester. Similarly, if a student knows that a particularly grueling course awaits in the fall, that student can use the summer to complete one of the easier courses that would have otherwise cluttered up the already challenging fall semester. Check your school’s policy for academic class loads per semester; depending on your major, it may be easier to spread credits into summer months than take heavy course loads during the fall and spring only.

Summer can be the perfect time for high schoolers or other pre-college students to get a jump start on their college coursework before they dive into a full semester of classes, or even formally enroll in college. Taking summer classes online gives these college-bound students the opportunity to accumulate credits early and begin to carve a path toward graduating ahead of schedule. It can also offer new students the chance to connect with their classmates, learn the ropes and adjust to a college-level schedule.

Students considering summer courses might be pleased to find that popular classes that fill up quickly during the regular semester are wide open in the offseason. With far fewer students competing for seats, summer sessions make highly coveted courses available to students who might have otherwise been shut out of them or put on a waiting list.

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…

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.

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