Last Updated On: May 12th, 2022
Taking college courses over the summer can be a great option for many students, but it is important to choose your courses wisely in order to get the most out of the experience and avoid wasting time or money. With so many colleges now offering summer courses —either in person or remotely— it can be difficult for students to figure out which courses to take. Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your summer classes.
Figure out what you’d like to get out of the class:
The first and most important step is to determine what you are looking to get out of your summer courses. Are you trying to fulfill a particular graduation or distribution requirement at your current educational institution? Or are you trying to strengthen your transcript in order to increase your acceptance chances as a college applicant (either for freshman year or as a transfer?) If you have specific academic requirements you are trying to meet, you will need to take care to make sure that your chosen course will be accepted by your current institution or the one to which you’d like to apply. On the other hand, if you are just looking for summer courses as a way to fulfill your intellectual curiosity and learn more, then you obviously do not have to worry about requirements or credit awarded and should instead focus on other factors such as rigor of the coursework or cost and convenience.
If you are trying to place out of a requirement or get course credit at your current institution:
Many students find that taking classes over the summer is a great way to meet distribution or credit requirements, particularly if they are juggling school and a job or are enrolled in a demanding college major that does not leave them with many open slots for courses needed to fulfill distribution requirements. Taking classes over the summer can be a great way to get more credits, place into desired classes in the fall, or even graduate from high school or college sooner in order to move onto the next step in your educational journey (such as graduate school) or to save money.
For those of you trying to meet specific requirements from your current institution, you will want to be sure that any course you take meets those requirements, especially if you are taking your summer college courses somewhere other than your current educational institution. You should clarify your college or high school’s credit transfer rules with your advisor, department, registrar’s office, or guidance counselor. All of these administrators can be especially busy at the end of the semester, so you should reach out early enough in the year so that you can get confirmation of the policies well before you need to sign up for courses.
Once you’ve figured out what your requirements are, you should move quickly to figure out which courses at which institutions will meet them and sign up quickly. Depending on the institution, many summer courses fill up quickly, so you may have to sign up a fair amount ahead of time. This is especially true because at many institutions offerings in the summer are often more limited than in the spring or fall.
If you are trying to make your college or college transfer application stronger:
If you do not have a specific requirement at your current school that you need to meet, but are instead looking to bolster your chances of admission at a future school, then you will want to look for a course that offers sufficient rigor, that it will look good on an application or make you stand out compared to other applicants. For high school students taking community college or other advanced classes over the summer, look for courses that will give you the chance to pursue advanced subjects not offered at your high school, or ones that will allow you to place out of introductory classes in favor of more advanced offerings. Students pursuing this path should be aware that many states allow students to dual-enroll in community college classes whilst in high school, oftentimes for free.
College students looking to bolster a transfer application, should have a look at the transfer requirements and recommendations of their target schools. In addition to baseline requirements of required courses and GPAs, many schools also provide statistics and background information about the transfer applicant pool that can further help you figure out what sort of courses will help you stand out from other applicants. For example, UCLA provides detailed transfer requirements and offers full transparency on the accepted transfer student profile so you can see best practices taken by previous applicants.
If you are just interested in the topic and don’t have a way to study it at your current educational institution (or you aren’t currently attending an educational institution):
If you do not have any specific benchmark or requirement you are hoping to meet with your summer courses then you have a bit more flexibility. You should thus look for a course that looks interesting and covers material you do not have an easy way to study otherwise. Most course descriptions will give a pretty good indication of what is covered in the course and allow you to have some sense of whether or not you’d find the material interesting. Some courses may even list syllabi which will allow you to preview the class in even more detail. If you are having trouble narrowing down exactly what course will let you answer the intellectual questions you might have or continue studying something you found fascinating in a class this past spring, ask for help or more information. A trusted teacher, tutor, or advisor can help narrow down your options. You can also reach out to the college department or professor and ask for more information about a particular class before signing up.
Whatever your motivations do some basic research first in order to figure out your options:
Whatever your motivations for taking summer courses, you will need to do some basic research outside of some of the specific niche questions we’ve outlined above. You will want to figure out your budget for the course, taking into account not only tuition fees, but books and materials, transportation, and lodging as well. Keep in mind that the cheapest tuition option may not end up being the cheapest course once you factor in the costs of transportation and lodging. A class with a higher sticker price at a local school will often end up cheaper than a class with lower tuition but that requires living away from home or a lengthy commute.
If you can, you will also want to see if you can determine how previous students felt about the course you are considering. Did they enjoy working with that professor? Did they feel well-prepared for their next class in that subject? If you know people who’ve taken the class or worked with that professor, ask them about their experiences. You can also look at online reviews, although keep in mind that those can often be unreliable, as they are not a random sample of views and can be prone to bias. The students who choose to post to Ratemyprofessor.com or other similar websites are often the ones with an ax to grind, or who had an abnormally bad experience in the course, so take all reviews from strangers with a grain of salt.
Another factor to consider is your personal learning style and preferences. Do you prefer learning remotely or in person? Are you excited by the opportunity to do lab work, or would you rather get your science requirement out of the way by reading and writing papers? All these sorts of questions can help you determine exactly which courses are the best fit for you.
Lastly, you will want to consider the quality and reputation of the institution itself. Is it accredited? If you are looking to make an application stand out, is it a highly-ranked institution with a good reputation in its field? Have other students from your school had good experiences taking courses there?
Making a final decision:
Once you have answered all these questions and solicited feedback from relevant sources, then compile a list of all the potential classes that fit your criteria and make a list of the pros and cons of each option. College courses are a major commitment of time and money, so it makes sense to perform the appropriate amount of due diligence before you make any decisions.