Taking summer college courses may seem like a good idea to the uninitiated, but if you weigh your options, you’ll quickly learn they amount to little more than a recipe for disaster.
The allure of graduating early is a very seductive prospect, given the minimum four-year investment the average college student makes in exchange for the promise of higher wages. And while summer courses have their merits, the savvy student who does a quick cost-benefit analysis will discover the lack of variety, faster pace, and the loss of valuable time may not be worth the price of admission.
Looking for summer classes is a lot like looking for the hottest holiday gadget the day after Black Friday. Scarcity plays a major factor when it comes to what you can get done over the summer months, especially in the wake of budget cuts. The meager selection of classes to choose from is somewhat reminiscent of the holocaust of a post-holiday season department store. The pickings are slim. And while we all would love to learn a little Cantonese in our spare time, it won’t help you earn that degree in engineering.
One group who would do well to skip school during the sunnier months are those on financial aid. Pell grant awards offer only so much money, and if you’re working at full-time pace or more, odds are good you won’t have excess award funds to cover the spread. It leaves students to cover the cost of summer courses on their own.
The brisker pace of summer classes also makes you more likely to fail, providing an unfortunate shock not only to your wallet, but to your GPA. And keep in mind, any unit you take brings you closer to reaching your financial aid limit. Failed and retaken classes still count. Every move you make, even false ones, gets you that much closer to the cut-off point. You’re going to spend the next decade or more paying down student loans anyway. So what’s the rush? Take your time and save your cash.
And speaking of earnings, taking summer courses may also force you to forgo the opportunity to dedicate those precious months to finding employment. Summertime is the perfect season to look for work, and because looking for a job is not unlike a job in its own right, free time is crucial. Many employers who offer entry level work are looking for people who can lend them 40 hours or more per week. Having to ask your potential employer to work around your schedule from day one puts you at a major disadvantage compared to those who have no other obligations.
Smart money says to tell your boss that you have full availability and then drop your new schedule on them once the fall hits. This approach is a little dishonest, but just because the guy sitting across from you at your job interview is content to work at Radio Shack for the rest of his life doesn’t mean you have to be. Unless it’s a family-owned business with few employees, it’s a lie you can’t afford not to tell.
Finally, taking the summer months off prevents burnout. Constantly having to memorize volumes of minutiae for months on end is mentally taxing. The summer gives you time to let your brain cool down. Even if you land a job, it almost certainly won’t require the same mental gymnastics you’ve grown accustomed to in college. Whether you choose to take a job offer or take it easy, what you should not do is take summer classes. They aren’t worth it.