When you’re a kid, the concept of “summer school” sounds more like a threat than an opportunity. Sitting in a hot, sticky classroom is the last thing you want to do while your friends splash around in lawn sprinklers and flag down ice cream trucks.
Well, we’re not going to lie to you. Even when you’re in college, summer school sort of feels this way. The difference is that it’s not a punishment. It actually is a great opportunity, free from the usual constraints of the regular semester — a full courseload, extracurricular commitments, and the inevitable social diversions on a bustling campus — summer sessions can be convenient, necessary, and, dare I say it, even fun.
Whether you’re catching up on a few credits, knocking out an essential prerequisite, retaking a course you couldn’t complete the first time around, or just taking fun electives offered only during the warmer months, this is the time of the season for learning.
Of course, summer is always a little different. A little slower, a little looser, a little lighter. So, how can you balance that breezy feeling with the responsibility of your education? We’ve got a few tips … and as if that wasn’t enough, we also made you a big, fat mix of tunes to get through it all.
Summer Breeze? — Not So Much
Summer terms are shorter, but that doesn’t mean they’re easier. Your instructor stuffs three to four months worth of curriculum into six to eight weeks. This means that the course may move at a quicker pace. Squeezing in an introductory course or a necessary prerequisite during this time is a good idea. But subjects that demand a great depth of understanding can be even more challenging over the summer. Choose your summer courses with this accelerated pace in mind. Take only courses you can manage at this speed.
Let’s Twist Again — Retaking Tough Courses
If you absolutely must retake a course you failed or were forced to drop, take preemptive steps to improve your chances. Now that you have a sense of the challenges ahead of you, let the instructor know you’ve had difficulty with aspects of the subject matter. Ask for advice or even recommendations for tutoring. This approach initiates a positive relationship with your instructor, one that makes it easier to seek and gain support as you prepare for a tough course.
Who Can It Be Now? — Research Your Instructor
Before you dive into the summer course catalogue, find out who’s teaching what. Adjuncts commonly teach summer courses. Turns out tenured professors like taking vacation. Your adjunct may well be a dedicated and inspiring educator with a deep and impressive mastery of the subject matter. Or, your adjunct may also be an over-tired grad student earning something less than minimum wage to teach a course he or she just heard about two weeks ago. It’s possible your adjunct is a combination of the two. Do a little research. You have the right to reach out to the office of academic affairs, or to the dean of your particular department, to learn more about the instructional background of your summer instructor. Before you spend your summer afternoons in the classroom, make sure it’ll be worth your while.
Go Your Own Way — Study Something Different
Study some cool subject. It’s still summer time. Act like it. Find some unusual electives that fulfill your requirements. Maybe this is your chance to take an art or music class, to spend the summer in a creative writing environment, or to participate in a community service project or an environmental effort. Find a unique path to your credits, whether that means taking a fun, unusual, or offbeat course, or participating in a credit-earning activity that takes place outdoors.
Whole Wide World — Go Somewhere New
Just because you must spend the summer in class doesn’t mean it has to be a drag. If you’re doing it to grab a couple more credits, or knock out a specific set of prerequisites, consider doing it somewhere amazing. So you have to get that economics course out of the way before your junior year? Why not study it during a summer semester abroad in Hong Kong? Take an art history class in Florence, an ecology course in Costa Rica, or a bowling elective in Wisconsin. Immerse yourself in the subject matter in a way that is only possible during the summer, when you aren’t carrying a full courseload. Find out more about the study abroad options available at your school and design your summer session strategy around the opportunity that most excites you.
So Happy Together — Find a Crew
There’s a good chance your usual study buddies are chilling back home, sleeping in on Monday mornings, or vacationing somewhere awesome. And of course, you’re super happy for those jerks, but in the meantime, you need some classmate camaraderie. Make new friends in your summer courses. Plan some joint study sessions, or maybe even just grab a cup of coffee after class. As always, sharing the experience with others is a great way to enhance your study habits and outcomes. But it’s also great to commune with other people who are, like you, spending their summer in the classroom. Knowing you’re not alone helps take the sting out of seeing your friends frolicking all over Instagram.
I Think We’re Alone Now — Find a Quiet Corner
One cool thing about summer sessions: the tranquility that falls upon your campus. Many of the same facilities remain open and accessible — libraries, student centers, gyms, dining halls — but the crowds are less intense. No waiting in the Sloppy Joe line for you! But it’s about more than Sloppy Joes. This is an opportunity to really make the campus your own, to spread out your books in a quiet study lounge like it’s your own living room. You may even get so used to the open seats at the computer lab, the readily available texts in the library, and the unoccupied treadmills in the fitness center that you’ll be a little bummed when the full population returns in September.
In My Room — Study Online
Of course, if you’re really going for serenity and personal space, summer is a great time to take a few online courses. See if your school offers the credits or prerequisites you need in an online module. If so, you can get your classes squared away while still enjoying the usual trappings of summer vacation, be they mornings spent lounging in the sun, afternoons spent watching terrible daytime TV, or evenings with old buds from back home. If you have a laptop and a good web connection, you can even get it all done in close proximity to a beach.
Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon — Don’t Get Sucked In
With all that said, don’t get sucked into the indolence of summer. The world moves at a slower pace when the mercury rises. Lunch breaks get a little longer, people split from work a earlier on Fridays, and acquaintances disappear for weeks at a time on cruises, lake-house getaways, and family gatherings. It’s tempting to lower your own intensity level. And chances are you’re carrying a much lighter credit load than during the regular semester. But don’t let the summer swoon slow your roll. Keep your energy level high, your focus on your work, and your schedule well managed.
In addition to capitalizing on the extra time spent from an educational perspective, effective schedule management affords you time for the most important thing of all …
Hot Fun in the Summertime — Make Time to Enjoy
Look, we know how focused you are. Here you are, busting your bum in the classroom while your friends post online those awful, wannabe Corona ad pics. You know the picture, where they take a first-person shot of their feet with the sand and ocean sprawled out before them. That picture. What a freaking cliché right? Obviously, you’d kill to be that cliche, but you’ve got a microbiology exam to study for.
Here’s the thing though. You only get one summer a year. Don’t squander the whole thing in the classroom. Make the most of your nights and weekends. Taking classes year-round can cause burnout … and if we’re being honest, a bit of resentment toward your friends and family who are texting you and being all like, oh man, you missed the best BBQ last night.
Find time to break away, to be immersed in your life even as you remain committed to your studies. Meaningful periods of rest, relaxation, and refreshment actually improve your productivity by stimulating creativity, concentration, and motivation. So go out and meet your friends for a frosty beverage. They’re probably dying to hear all about your microbiology exam. Go see some concerts. All the good bands come to town when the weather gets warm. Go to the beach. You too can post cliched pics of your own toes on social media.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think every summer should be memorable and even a bit romantic. Naturally, if you can find a class that fulfills both of these criteria, that’s awesome. Tell us about it, because it sounds great. Otherwise, make sure you learn in class but live when you’re outside of it. You can get back to the real grind when the school year returns.
Summer on the Brain
And what would summer be without the music? Way too quiet.
This is especially true if you’re spending any portion of your time in the classroom. We think it’s important to be reminded — even when you’re hard at work — that it’s still summertime. Here’s an enormous playlist of summer classics, golden oldies, yacht rockers, sweaty bangers, guilty ‘80s pleasures, and some genuinely cool nuggets you may be hearing for the first time, all of it awash in the warm, foamy nostalgia that makes summer so special.