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Should You Take Summer Classes? Here’s How to Decide

When you think of summer, taking classes is probably the last thing on your mind. Summer is a time to forget about school and relax.

Or at least, that’s the traditional line of thinking. In some cases, however, summer can be an excellent time to fit in a class or two. There are many benefits, ranging from more individualized attention to extra time for difficult classes.

But how do you decide if summer classes are right for you? Below, we explore this question, as well as some other common questions about summer college classes.

Should You Take Summer Classes? The Pros and Cons

If you’re trying to decide if it makes sense to take summer classes, then the following pros and cons should help you out.

Pro: Summer Classes Can Help You Graduate Earlier

While college can be a wonderful experience, it can also be an expensive one. And the more time you spend in college, the more you have to spend overall (especially if you’re living on campus).

Taking a few summer classes, however, could give you the credits you need to graduate a semester earlier (or even sooner, if you also entered college with AP, IB, or dual enrollment credits).

You’ll have to discuss this with your advisor and registrar to be sure. But if you can manage it, graduating early can save you both valuable time and money.

Pro: More Time for Difficult Classes

No matter your major, you’ll have to take a challenging and time-consuming class at some point. Some of these are well-known, including “weed out” classes such as organic chemistry. Others could be gen ed classes that you struggle with personally, such as calculus or English 101.

Whatever the case, summer can be a useful time to take difficult classes. You won’t have the additional classes and obligations that you would during the semester, which will give you more time and energy to devote to the difficult subject.

Pro: Smaller Class Sizes

While this isn’t always the case, summer classes tend to be smaller than their fall and spring semester counterparts.

With fewer people in the class, you’ll be able to get more one-on-one attention from the instructor. Plus, it’s much easier to make friends in a class of two-dozen people than one of a two hundred.

Pro: Chance to Take Classes Elsewhere

You might assume that you can only take summer classes at your university, but that isn’t always the case. Many gen ed courses are available at your local community college, and there’s a good chance you can transfer those credits back to your university.

This process requires a bit more work up front, but it can have some major benefits. Mainly, community college classes are often cheaper than their university counterparts. Furthermore, if you’re spending the summer living with your parents in a different city, then it can be much more practical to take classes at the local community college.

If you decide to take community college classes, be sure to get your college’s registrar to sign off on them first. Tell them exactly which classes you plan to take and which credits you want to transfer. Otherwise, you could spend all that work on a class only to discover that your college won’t accept it for credit.

Con: Opportunity Cost

One of the disadvantages of summer classes is the opportunity cost. The time you spend taking classes is time you could spend doing other productive things. For instance, you could use your summer to:

Depending on your situation, these could be more valuable ways to use your time than taking a college class.

However, bear in mind that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s possible to take a summer class and still use your remaining free time to work on something else. Or, you could spend part of your summer taking classes and the rest of it working or doing an internship.

Con: Financial Aid and Scholarships May Not Apply

While you can save money taking classes in the summer, those classes still aren’t free. And depending on how you’re paying for your college education, this could have some important implications.

In general, you can use the same financial aid (grants, loans, etc.) to pay for summer classes. However, there are some caveats.

First, check with your college’s student aid office about the requirements for summer financial aid. In some cases, you may need to fill out a different FAFSA.

Second, pay particular attention to class costs if you’re eligible for Pell Grants. Federal law limits the amount of Pell Grant funds you can receive in your lifetime, and funds you use for summer classes count towards that cap. This won’t typically be a problem, but check with your financial aid office so you don’t end up short on funds to pay for classes during the next semester.

Beyond federal financial aid, ask your financial aid office if you can use some of your scholarship money to pay for summer classes. This is often possible, though it could reduce the amount of scholarship money you have available for future semesters.

You can also search for additional scholarships if you’re coming up short. Learn more about how to find scholarships here.

Con: Living Costs

Besides the cost of the classes themselves, another potential con of summer classes is covering your living costs. In addition to tuition, you’ll need to pay for your housing, food, transportation, and other essential expenses.

Of course, you can control these costs to a certain degree. Living off-campus and cooking your own food, for instance, will almost always be cheaper than living in campus housing with a meal plan. And if you’re taking classes online, you could save some money by living at your parents’ house.

Even if you can’t or don’t want to stay with your parents, however, you can also cover your expenses with a part-time or freelance job. Just be sure you can fit it into your schedule and still have the time you need for your classes.

Summer Classes FAQ

You should now have the information you need to decide if summer classes are right for you. Before we conclude, however, here are answers to a few other common questions about summer classes:

How can I succeed in summer classes?

Most of the same study advice that applies to regular semester classes will apply during the summer.

The main thing to watch out for is that you’ll probably have more free time. While this can give you extra time to work on challenging coursework, be careful. All that extra free time can also invite procrastination and bad habits.

To counter this, make sure to keep a schedule as you would during the semester. Have a set wake-up and bedtime, and schedule time to study each day. And of course, be sure to attend class!

For more study advice, check out this list of our best resources.

How much do summer classes cost?

It depends. If you’re taking classes at your main university, then the cost will typically be similar to what you’d pay during the semester. Check with the bursar’s office to get the latest information about course costs.

If you take classes at a community college, then your costs could be a lot lower, particularly compared to private or out-of-state tuition.

When do summer classes start?

This varies from university to university. Many universities have multiple summer “sessions,” meaning it’s possible to take two or three courses during the summer. Check the website for your registrar’s office to get exact dates. And be sure to check for any registration deadlines as well.

Can I take summer classes online?

In many cases, yes. You could take online courses at your university, or through a community college.

This can be a big advantage since there’s no need to live on or near your university campus. However, online instruction generally isn’t available for classes that include a lab or another practical component.

Struggling with online classes? Here’s how to make them a success.

Which classes are best to take in the summer?

Typically, we recommend using summer to take gen ed courses that either don’t fit in your schedule during the regular semester or will require lots of time and effort.

Beyond that, though, it comes down to your preferences and course availability.

Make Your Summer Count

I hope this article has answered your burning questions about summer classes, as well as helped you decide if summer classes are the right decision.

For other productive ways to spend your summer break, read this next.

Image Credits: birch branch