Oh, sweet summer. The cicadas droning from somewhere near a bone-dry tree, leaves clapping in the breeze. Blades of grass tickling the skin while lying prostrate in the park. That sleep-inducing late afternoon haze. It was only weeks ago that summer was too distant a reality to believe in, but now it’s at our doorstep, and like all other summers, I’ve made a list of all the things I’m going to get done: knit a sweater for the fall. Quilt a quilt. Get a new and better job. Go to the gym four times a week. Enjoy the sun. Take photos of U of T while it’s empty. Look up what exactly the Golgi apparatus does. Make more mini-movies on campus, waking up at dawn (yikes).
Alas. There is a good chance I will not get through my list (or even any item on it). For most students, summer is the end of a year, an all-too brief four-month reprieve from the scholastic nightmare that culminates with the end of April. But for other students (like me) summer is not really a break at all: we enrol in summer classes. “Why?!” you ask. A good question. What on earth is there to gain from spending your only chance of freedom as an undergrad (and the nicest time of year) still in school?
For me, since I work 30 hours a week all year long, summer gives me the chance to catch up on the courses I didn’t have the time to do throughout the normal year (should I ever wish to graduate). If you need to repeat classes, summer’s a good time to get the job done fast. Or if you have to take those distribution requirement courses, again, summer gets them finished quickly. A few things I’ve learned about them, now that I’ve enrolled for the past three years:
a) They move really fast: half courses are up and finished in the short space of five or six weeks. This can be a good thing, if you’re looking to simply fill in some required credits, but it can also be really really bad. Be careful if you plan to take a notoriously difficult class (see the Anticalendar). It might not be worth it in the summer, which then becomes a good excuse to actually take the holiday while you can.
b) Language classes. Be careful! They can be lethal in the summer! During the normal school year staying on top of course work in languages (which, unlike some other classes, is totally mandatory if you actually want to learn the language) can be hard enough. In the summer it’s like a fast-forward grammatical triathlon. Instead of finishing two chapters a week (ten hours of homework minimum), you’re doing twice that- and as you’re in class four days a week, sometimes up to four hours at a time, and probably have a summer job to top, there’s very little time to fit in 20 hours for terminations and declensions, fun as they can be.
c) Distribution Requirement Courses. I once groaned at the idea of taking stats or geography, but realized that there are some great classes you can take to fill the credit you need. My favourite to date was GLG110, probably the best summer course I’ve ever taken. It moved fast, started at 10 am (early enough to sleep in a bit but then was done by noon), and I learned about volcanoes, hurricanes, tectonic plates, and Hawaii: all the subjects (like trains and dinosaurs) that I thought were super fascinating as a child, but which I forgot about somehow between grade four and second year at U of T.
d) The classes are smaller in summer, which is always kind of nice. You can actually get to know your profs and they generally have a bit more time during office hours to help you out if you need it. But it also means that if you have labs and tutorials, you stand out if you’re not doing the work.
I guess ultimately what I’ve learned after taking several of them is that while they’re not exactly reading-on-the-beach-with-a-Mai-Tai-kind-of-fun, summer courses don’t have to be teeth-pulling experiences. The school is relatively empty, so quiet study places abound. The sultry heat of summer days takes the edge off due dates and stress levels. And the campus’ courtyards play host to an assortment of musicians: merry little songbirds trumpeting their hearts out and cicadas fiddling in the mid-afternoon heat.