Why Take Summer College Courses Online?

Search for online colleges by subject.

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.

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.

  • Graduate Early or on Time

    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.

  • Take Special Courses Exclusive to Summer Learning

    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.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.

  • Concentrate on a Fewer Topics and Courses

    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.

  • Avoid the Summer Learning Gap

    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.

  • Start a New Major, Minor or Concentration

    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.

  • Lay the Groundwork for Future Job Interviews

    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.

  • Boost Your GPA

    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.

  • Take Pressure Off Your Fall Schedule

    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.

  • Get a Jump on College

    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.

  • Beat the Crowds

    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.

  • Length of Class Terms

    Traditional Online College Course

    • Fall semester: 15 weeks, September to December
    • Spring Semester: 15 Weeks, January to April


    Online Summer College Course

    • Summer Semester(s): Four-, six- and 10-week terms
    • Schools generally offer multiple summer class sessions from May to August. ExampleQueens College Summer Sessions

  • Workload

    Traditional Online College Course

    • Regular terms allow instructors to spread out coursework, assignments, reading and tests over a 15-week period.

    Online Summer College Course

    • Condensed courses require instructors to assign larger batches of homework and reading over a much shorter period of time. In some cases, students might encounter a lab, a quiz and a mid-term in the same week. Check for a school workload policy to get more information.

  • Competition

    Traditional Online College Course

    • Most professors teach multiple classes during regular semesters. That, combined with longer terms, generally means more classes are available in the fall and spring.
    • Many more students are competing for seats during the regular term.
    • Competition is stiffer for the most popular classes.

    Online Summer College Course

    • Instructors often teach just one class, or limit teaching to only one summer session, generally making far fewer courses to choose from in the summer.
    • Less class volume means far fewer students competing for open spots.

  • Costs

    Traditional Online College Course

    • Traditional online classes are often more expensive than summer courses.
      ExampleIowa State University

    Online Summer College Course

    • Summer online courses are often less expensive per credit than traditional classes.
      ExampleIowa State University

  • Enrollment Restrictions

    Traditional Online College Course

    • Some schools require distance learners to be accepted and admitted to the University to take online classes during regular semesters.
      ExampleCornell University

    Online Summer College Course

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

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
  • Anthropology
  • 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.

  • Astronomy
  • Literature
  • 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.

  • Photography
  • 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.

  • Biology
  • Genetics
  • 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.

  • Calculus
  • 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.

Special Summer Scholarships

Your school might offer a summer-specific scholarship program, like the one that is offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What You Should Know:

  • You might be required to apply through a process separate from FAFSA
  • You might be required to apply through FAFSA and the school’s aid department
  • Some schools, like the University of Oregon, issue priority deadlines in May

Summer Pell Grants

Some students might be eligible for “year-round” Pell Grants, which award extra money to students who enroll in summer courses.

What You Should Know:

  • Pell Grants are available only to undergraduate students who haven’t already earned a baccalaureate degree
  • “Year-round” Pell grants provide some students with up to 150 percent of their original award, meaning that a student who qualifies for $2,000 could receive $1,000 in the fall, $1,000 in the spring and $1,000 extra in the summer
  • Contact your school’s financial aid center to see if you qualify

State-Based Summer Aid Programs

Some states, such as South Carolina, offer financial assistance and incentives to take summer courses at the state level.

What You Should Know:

  • There are different rules and regulations for each state-based financial aid program, however they are generally only open to residents of the state
  • Your school’s financial aid office will be able to tell you if your state has a similar program

Additional Discounts for Summer Students

Distance learners taking courses in the summer might be able to reduce costs beyond financial aid, scholarships and grants.

What You Should Know:

  • Some schools offer “plateau tuition” in the summer, which allows students to take courses for free beyond a certain number of credits
  • Some schools, such as the University of Wisconsin-Superior, offer dramatically reduced tuition in the summer compared to fall and spring semesters
  • Some public colleges and universities, like the University of Colorado, offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state distance learners year-round, while others offer the discount only during summer sessions.

Federal Work-Study

One of the biggest benefits of online learning is that it allows students to maintain a flexible schedule, which is especially important for students who work in the summer. Federal work-study programs can help students secure jobs that help them pay for their education.

What You Should Know:

  • Both full-time and part-time students are eligible.
  • -The work program emphasizes civic education and, whenever possible, relates to your course of study.
  • -Students can only take advantage of the program if they attend a participating school.

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.

Latest Posts

See All Posts
How I Paid Off My Student Loans: Megan in St. Paul, Minnesota

How I Paid Off My Student Loans: Megan in St. Paul, Minnesota

July 28, 2021   |   Staff Writers

Welcome to our new series about personal student loan repayment. We'll be sharing how people got out of debt, whether it was through loan forgiveness, steady payments, or outside help....

What are the Differences Between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile?

What are the Differences Between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile?

July 26, 2021   |   Thomas Broderick

Prospective and current college students can use the FAFSA application to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. Another popular financial aid form includes the CSS Profile, which 400 colleges and universities use to award need-based institutional aid. The following sections break down the differences between the two applications, instructions for filling them out, and […]

Search for Online Colleges by Subject

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.