For generations, college students have welcomed summer as a necessary break from the non-stop academic work of the traditional fall and spring semesters. But for many students, summer has also been the most financially crucial time of the year, when they can work full-time to earn money for tuition and living costs. When I was in college, my summer jobs included working for a lawyer and driving a wholesale floral delivery truck, while my friends were landscapers, lifeguards, nannies, and fast-food workers. One even ran her own hot dog cart!
The days of reserving summer as a valuable time to earn money may be over, however. More and more students find that they must work all year, not just during the summer, to cover college costs. The 2012 Condition of Higher Education from the National Center for Education Statistics points out that most students at all schools, including both two- and four-year institutions, now work at least 20 hours a week.
Why then, would a student want to take a college course over the summer, which might be the only time of year that they don’t have to both work and study? There are plenty of good reasons:
1. Summer courses are often less expensive. According to Eric Greenberg of Greenberg Educational Group, “it’s very feasible for a student to save a semester of tuition by taking courses during the summer. Savings could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.” This is especially true if you attend a very expensive school that will accept transfer credits from less expensive schools, including community college. Students can save even more if they live with their families and take summer courses that are offered online by their institutions, eliminating the expenses of summer room and board and travel costs.
2. Even one summer course can lessen your work load during the regular school year. Most traditional full-time course loads include 4 or 5 courses—some of them lab courses that involve more additional seat time. Reducing your traditional course load by spreading them out over the full year, including the summer, will not only allow you to focus more on each course, it can also free up a little time during each semester, so that you can do things like work more hours while you attend school, participate in extra-curricular activities and sports, and even get a little more rest.
3. You can finish college more quickly. The results of a study released this week by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, “found that college students who earned their bachelor’s degrees within four years make higher salaries than those who took longer to complete their degrees.” This is very relevant to today’s students because the budget crisis facing higher education has affected the availability of courses at campuses across the country. More students today need extra semesters to complete their degrees. One way to prevent this is to take one or more courses during the summer, when high-demand courses may have more available seats. In addition, the luxury of the traditional 4-year degree program is rapidly disappearing for many students, who cannot afford to spend that much time focusing on their higher education, especially non-traditional students with families or recently unemployed adults who need to refocus their job skills to secure employment.
There are many other reasons to take summer courses, including the sheer intellectual pleasure of it. The key thing about summer courses is that there are many options, from online to courses you can transfer from other institutions. Most students should remember that it is their education, and they can organize it the way that works best for them. As always, students should also remember to discuss their plans with an academic advisor, to make sure that their summer courses, whether transferred fro a different institution or not, will count towards their degree.
Jill Rooney, Ph.D. is an Education Writer for OnlineColleges.net. She earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire and has taught History, Political Science, and Film Theory for over twenty years. Dr. Rooney’s work has been published by the Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University Press, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her teaching experience has taught her that all students really just want one thing: To learn. And that isn't always easy, so she's here to help!