The Joys and Woes of Summer School

Woman reading a book
Photo by Artem Bali via Pexels

As the Spring 2019 semester wraps up and campuses empty, one special group of students are preparing to begin their studies.

They are the summer students – those few who are jumping ahead, or catching up, or just racing headlong towards completion of a degree.

Summer school offers some unique benefits and challenges, and shouldn’t be attempted by the half-hearted or undisciplined.

The Value of Summer School
Those who have persevered through the summer school gauntlet tell stories of a difficult challenge that helped them get ahead.

“I went for my masters while teaching. It was tough going to school at night after working all day,” said Marna Fox, a high school teacher in Jacksonville, Fl. “Summer school enabled me to complete two tough courses towards my masters at an accelerated rate.”

Some students plow through their master’s degree courses during the summer in order to graduate earlier. For them, lopping off half a year or a year means they can resume normal family and life activities sooner. For others, the graduate degree marks an end to their academic career and the commencement of their work life.

“As an adult student, summer school offered me an opportunity to finish my master’s and begin earning a living in my chosen profession,” said Michelle Sauvé, an occupational therapist in Charleston.

Summer school also enables students juggling academics and life to take fewer classes during the fall and spring. For Andy Knobel, an editor at The Baltimore Sun, summer school helped him concentrate during the spring and fall of undergraduate years on the work that gave him a career.

“Taking summer classes enabled me to lighten my course load, giving me time during the fall and spring semesters to hold editor roles at the student newspaper, he said “My grades during summer session were far better than those during the traditional school year — maybe because I had time to attend class and do all the recommended reading.”

Many summer classes are hybrid in-person/online, or feature small class sizes. For those taking courses outside their core competencies, that can be extremely helpful. At the Lowcountry Graduate Center, classes generally contain no more than 20 students and many are much smaller.

The main downside of a summer session is a schedule that condenses a semester of classes into just a few weeks at exactly the same time the rest of the country is relaxing. Robin Brock Broyles, a marketing consultant in Louisville, KY, earned her MBA at The Citadel.

“I had just two courses left to finish my degree, so I decided on summer school. I drove straight from work to The Citadel every weeknight and spent three hours in class. My weekends were consumed with homework and studying. I spent every lunch break reading. Unless you count the time spent with classmates on group projects, I had no social life,” she said.

Same Work, Half the Time
Was it worth the effort? Like childbirth, those who endured summer school remember the results more than the pain. “It was grueling but well worth it to finish my degree sooner, and I had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when it was all over,” Broyles said.

Tips to Succeed
Those who exploit the summer session to get ahead say you have to go in with your eyes open and a commitment to do the work. Richard Gellman, a marketing executive in Manhattan, offers this advice:

  • Read the syllabus before you take the course. You don’t want to be surprised.
  • Be present every minute you’re in class. It moves too fast to fall behind.
  • No matter how tired you are after class, review your notes so you retain what you’ve learned.
  • Never miss a class. It’s like missing five during a fall or spring course.
  • Eat healthy, exercise and get your rest. Being in peak physical and mental condition helps you learn.
  • Make sure your family and friends know that you won’t be available much for the next two months. They have to be prepared too.