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The Pros and Cons of Summer Courses

The Pros and Cons of Summer Courses

On March 1st, summer course enrollment will begin for Arts and Science students at University of Toronto St. George Campus. For this week’s blog post, I thought I’d share some pros and cons of doing so; next week, I’ll be discussing the process of dropping a course and some tips on how to determine if that is the right choice for you. If you do decide you want to take a summer course, you can find detailed instructions on how to enroll at www.artsci.utoronto.ca/current/course/timetable/20185/index_html. The 2018 Summer Session Timetable of Arts and Science course offerings is available here.

After completing my first year at the University of Toronto, I decided to take a program requirement over the summer. I had two reasons behind this choice, the first of which being that I had only taken four courses in my first semester, in order to adjust to the pace of university. Summer school seemed like a more reasonable option than taking six courses later: the five courses I had taken in the winter term had been more than enough of a challenge to keep up with! Additionally, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my summer vacation. I hadn’t applied to any of the typical research programs that many Life Sci students apply to, nor did I have a backpacking trip across Europe planned.

With no other plans, I enrolled in summer school, thinking that only taking one course over six weeks couldn’t be that awful. Truthfully, I felt a bit uneasy at the idea of taking a summer course but I tried to get through those thoughts by telling myself, “how bad can it be?” Well, it was bad. Although I ended up with a decent mark, summer school ended up being the last thing I wanted to do with my time, and I don’t think I’ll do it again. The main reason I did not enjoy summer school is that the expedited pace of summer school was not easy for me to adjust to. As a result, I found myself cramming for my final as the six weeks were over in the blink of the eye. This was a drastic change for me, as I have always striven to be prepared well in advance of assignment deadlines and test dates. Also, I felt tired and ready for a break from academics after my hectic first eight months of university. This tiredness, together with the fast-paced nature of the course, made it challenging to enjoy my time in class. Although I had no issues with the professor or course content, the speed was difficult for me to handle, as I often felt I couldn’t fully grasp material before the next chapter was taught.

But with that said, I know that there are a lot of situations where summer school really is the best option: I’m not an expert nor should I be your only guiding figure, but with this list of pros and cons from my personal experience, I hope you’ll be able to make a slightly more informed decision on whether summer school is the right choice for you!

Pros

  • You can take a lighter course load in the fall or winter, whether it be the semester before you take a summer course or the following school year.
  • You may be able to take courses that conflicted with your other classes during the fall and winter semesters.
  • Summer class sizes are usually smaller than fall and winter semester classes, which is beneficial in getting to know your professor and your classmates. It can be easier to make friends! My course had 200 people in it during the summer, versus the typical 1000+ during the year.
  • You can also explore subject areas you’ve never considered before. Some of my friends in the sciences have enjoyed taking humanities courses over the summer, as it has allowed them to focus their time on completing the required readings, rather than juggling them alongside their science course work.
Photograph of University College in the summer
Another Pro of Summer School: CAMPUS LOOKS amazing!

Cons

  • The course offerings are limited in comparison to the fall and winter semester, and some departments may not offer courses at all. As a result of this, you might not have the option of taking the courses you need for your program requirements, or of retaking courses that you dropped during the fall or winter.
  • The shorter class terms of six to twelve weeks (depending on if you’re taking a half or a full credit) really does not make the material easier! It can be hard to adjust to the expedited class schedule, since the courses are about twice as fast.
  • Summer courses can be difficult to manage alongside other commitments like work. And let’s be honest, many of us students need to make an income. Time-management skills are key!

Things to Consider

If you take a summer course, check in with yourself to ensure that you’re ready to take on the workload. After a long eight months of school with limited time to relax, you need to feel ready! While taking my summer course, I still felt overwhelmed from my first year of university, and not having a break was hard. This made me feel limited in my ability to give it my all! Although six weeks for a half-credit or twelve weeks to complete a full credit may be a quick way to get the course done, it still requires as much effort as a regular school-year course.

Here’s my advice: outline your summer plans in advance. Four months of summer is a fantastic time to explore your passions. If you do decide to take a summer course, I recommend finding something else to do along with it. This could be a volunteer position, a job, or just returning to the hobbies you had no time for between September and April. I realized, once I was two weeks into summer school, that there were opportunities I wanted to explore but I couldn’t make the time commitment. For me, that opportunity was research. Once July arrived and my course was done, it was difficult to find opportunities since most positions had been filled. A well-defined plan, including the goals that you want to achieve, can help you make the most of your summer, whether or not school is included.

Sometimes, you just have to enroll in summer school for various reasons. Perhaps you intend to graduate soon but are just one credit short, maybe you need a specific prerequisite for a fall course or dropped a course last semester. The benefit of summer school is you can catch up on missing credits, which is what I chose to do last summer. I don’t regret my choice to take a summer class, as it allowed me to get back on track with my plan to graduate in four years. In situations where summer school is a must, the best bet is to approach summer courses with an open mindset! I went into summer school with a fairly negative picture in mind: that I would be isolated in Gerstein for the next six weeks, rather than hanging out with my friends. If you can, make time for both. With a positive attitude and some time to de-stress, you can still succeed in your courses while enjoying the summer weather. And for those of you from abroad, Toronto is a pretty sweet city to be in during the summer. Take the stroll down to the lake after class, visit the Toronto Islands, or head out for ice cream with friends you meet in your summer courses! You can have the best of the summer and of school with a little balancing work.

Have you taken summer courses before? What is your best survival tip? Leave me a comment below!

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