Summer is the perfect time to catch up on all the for-fun books you neglected to read during the school year, to binge watch all your favorite television shows, and to relax without having to worry about homework and your GPA. Being productive during the summer, though, can make the rest of the year a little easier. Productivity comes in many forms. For some students, it could be studying for the SAT or GRE. Others may work a job so that they can afford their next tuition bill. Still others will decide to spend their time doing school… again.
There are many reasons someone might take a summer class. Maybe they want to get prerequisites out of the way so they can focus on upper level and elective classes during the semester. Maybe they want to start college with a few credits already under their belt. Maybe they need a refresher course in a lower level class and don’t want to waste time at school taking something that they’ve already taken once. Take me, for example. I tested into Calculus II the summer before starting college, but didn’t have any confidence in my math ability. I looked into registering for Calculus I as a summer course at the local university so I would be ready for math in college. (Full disclosure, the timing didn’t work out for me because I also worked, but it would’ve been really useful! I ended up playing it safe and registering for Calculus I my first semester of college.)
Summer classes are really different from semester-long classes, though. They’re accelerated, meaning you cover the same amount of material much, much faster, and this generally makes them harder. However, they’re excellent if you need to catch up on credits or classes so that you can graduate on time (or early). Plus, you may save money, especially if you decide to take summer courses at a community college instead of a four-year institution—just make sure that you talk to an academic advisor at your college and the college at which you’ll be taking summer classes to ensure that your credits will transfer. You don’t want to put in the money and effort only to find out that the credits you earned over the summer won’t count toward your graduation requirements!
Once you’ve talked to your academic advisors and taken steps to enroll in a summer class, you need to make sure that you’ll be successful. Here are some tips you can follow to ensure that you get your money’s worth out of summer classes:
1. Schedule well. Take a look at all of your other summer commitments. Are you working a part-time job? Are you babysitting once a week? Do you have any vacations planned? Don’t sign up for anything if you know that you’re going to miss class meetings. Summer classes can be as short as four weeks long, which is less than half the length of a semester, so missing even one class can set you way back. If you’re going to take a summer class, it needs to be your top priority.
2. Make to-do lists. You need to be on your A-game when it comes to completing readings, doing assignments, and studying. If you’re taking only one class, it’s easy to prioritize. Simply check the syllabus and write up a daily (or weekly) list of things to do. If you’re taking a couple of courses, though, you’re going to need to take care to spread your time evenly between classes. This is when your time management skills will be put to the test. Assignment due dates are likely to overlap or tests may be scheduled for the same day, and you’re going to have to balance all of it. Because the pace of summer classes is so accelerated, there isn’t any room for procrastination.
3. Ask for help. If you are struggling at all, reach out to your professor. There’s no shame in being confused or asking for help. If you don’t, you could end up falling behind to the point where you’re barely holding on, or even worse, to the point where you can no longer recover. Visit your professor’s office hours, ask to meet after class, or send an email whenever you’re stumped. If your professor is unavailable, turn to your classmates. Having someone explain the material to you and then trying to teach it back to them can help solidify concepts in your mind.
4. Let yourself recharge. Because of the fast-paced nature of summer classes, it’s not hard to get burned out. Instead of taking classes all summer long (there may be several summer sessions), let yourself take a break between classes to relax and stop thinking about school for a few weeks. That way, when you do go back to class, whether it’s another summer session or the start of the school year, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle your work instead of feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of textbooks.
- This rule doesn’t just apply to the long term. If you’re tackling an assignment and feel your motivation and attention slipping away, it’s okay to take a break and come back to your classwork when you’re feeling rejuvenated. That said, a lengthy lack of motivation isn’t an excuse to procrastinate. Give yourself a 10 or 20 minute brain break and get back to it!
5. Get outside. Being stuck inside a stuffy classroom while all of your friends are at the ballpark or the pool is a bit depressing, so make an effort to spend some time outside. Whether you bring your textbook and highlighter to the park or take your laptop outside and write a paper on your back porch, getting a little bit of vitamin D is sure to boost your mood.
6. Remind yourself that your classes are important. Just because you’re taking classes during the summer doesn’t mean that they won’t affect your GPA or that they’re lesser classes than the ones you take during the school year. Your success in college depends on your education as a whole, and being successful in college can lead to job opportunities down the line. The big picture is just as important as staying on task day to day.
Have you taken any summer courses? How did you stay on task? What helped you succeed?