Taking Advantage of Summer School

Posted by Sam on June 9, 2016

Academic Success | Student Life

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A panorama of a dorm room looking out on to Stong Pond.

Summer school in university and summer school in high school are two very different things. I remember a friend telling me in first year at York that he was enrolled in classes over the summer and being confused when he assured me that it wasn’t because he had failed any of his courses during the Fall/Winter semester. Why take summer school when you don’t have to? Let me tell you, saving yourself from stress down the road is why.

Allow me to present to you two very different scenarios:

Alfred is an astute fourth-year Environmental Studies student with a passion for cactus collecting (an irrelevant yet intriguing trait). Each year of his fruitful stay at York University, Alfred partakes in summer school, enrolling in as many summer classes as his intensive cactus-collecting schedule allows. By the end of his fourth Fall/Winter semester, Alfred finds himself completely devoid of any academic obligations, and is thus able to enjoy an entire summer free to dedicate himself to as much cactus collecting as he can fathom.

The case of Alfred sounds ideal, right? Well, now let me present to you another situation.

Stapler, a fourth-year Communications student with an avid dislike for his appliance-like name, sees summer as a time for vacation and as an opportunity to build some savings for the coming school year. One thing he does not associate with summer, however, is school. As he traverses his third and fourth years, Stapler begins working part-time during the school semesters, picking up a more intensive work schedule in the following summers. Before he knows it, Stapler has reached the end of his fourth Fall/Winter term. However, call it neglect, conflicting schedules or anything between, but on looking at his graduation status, Stapler realizes that he is still 18 credits short of graduating. Unlike his cohort Alfred who is out gleefully collecting cacti, Stapler learns that on top of the 30-plus-hour summer work schedule he has already agreed to, he must now also complete three six-credit courses in the span of the summer if he wants to graduate as planned.

Horizon of York buildings with a rainbow going over them.It’s fair to say that out of these two examples, the vast majority of people would prefer to find themselves in Alfred’s situation. Eighteen credits feel like a lot less work when they are equally distributed over four years, as opposed to all being crammed into one summer semester. As painful as it may sound, the truth is that summer school can translate into a lot less work, less stress and a higher chance that you will graduate on time. This holds particularly true for Honors students, as well as for students with a second major or minor, where the amount of required credits can be higher.

Personally speaking, I can certainly say that I relate more to Stapler’s situation than I do to Alfred’s. With my first summer spent working back home, my second summer spent in Hong Kong teaching English, and my third summer dedicated to a Work/Study position on campus, taking summer courses was never really an option (or so I thought).

I can vividly remember the crushing feeling I had when I looked at my graduation status to find that at the end of my fourth Fall/Winter semester I would still be 18 credits short . . . 18! Ahaa, that’s a full eight-month course load for some people. The most irritating thing was that I had checked every year to make sure I was at least on track to graduate within four years, being careful to take all the required courses necessary to do so. As many excuses as I might possibly construct, such as blaming the dire situation on the confusion that resulted from the double major and minor that I experimented with, it ultimately just comes down to neglect on my part.

Fast-forward to today, and I am experiencing for the first time what it’s like to juggle three six-credit summer courses and a 30-plus-hour work schedule at the same time. It’s certainly doable, and I’m sure many a student before me has gone through the same situation, but I can’t help but think that I could have more equally plotted out my required credits over previous summers, even it was just one or two here and there. The fewer courses you have, the more attention you can devote to each one of them, thus theoretically also allowing you to do better in each one. #Math.

Worm's eye perspective of a dandelion in a field of grass.Long story short, be sure to consistently check your graduation status. A very easy way to do this is the Graduation Status Tool. The majority of you probably know about this magical resource, but I somehow wasn’t aware of it until my third year. For the first three years of my program, I literally relied on a single piece of yellow crumpled paper given to me in first year and telling me my program’s yearly course requirements. The Graduation Status Tool, however, lets you know exactly what you still need in terms of credits to fulfill your overall program requirements. If all else fails, you can always arrange an appointment with an academic adviser.

If we’re being honest, this post is more a form a self-therapy than anything else, but other than that, I tell you all of this experience not to flaunt my busy schedule (oh, how we university students like to tell you how busy we are), but to try and help my fellow students avoid similar scenarios in their own future. Take advantage of summer school, stay on top of your graduation status and try not to place yourself in positions where you feel overwhelmed academically. If university has taught me anything, it’s that a busy mind is not necessarily always a productive mind.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam

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