The sad truth is that for high schoolers nowadays, summer isn’t the blissful idyll it used to be. Why? Because the college admissions process has become so competitive that applicants have to use their summers profitably, or else get left behind. In other words, just driving the Chevy to the levee all summer long is pretty much out of the question. The question then becomes, if I can’t just goof off, what do I do? Some students do internships, others volunteer or travel. But for many students, summer is the perfect chance to take that course or class they never quite got around to taking.
This course could be for fun, to satisfy a requirement or get ahead of the busy academic year schedule. I personally am a big fan of keeping an active brain during the summer and over my 5 years as a biology and chemistry tutor in Boston and Cambridge, I have come across many students who take science courses during the summer. A lot of my long-term science students have also asked me whether it is a good idea to take science summer courses. My answer is always a variation of the same theme: it depends on your background of the student and the kind of science class.
Generally, I think taking advanced summer science classes is great idea. Though these classes move fast, students usually have the necessary science background to handle the material. However the introductory science classes are a bit of a different story. What do I mean by that?
When it comes to science summer courses offered at universities, the term summer is a bit deceptive. It is a course that happens during the summer, but in fact it only lasts for about only 6-7 weeks. This could turn out to be extremely intense when it comes to introductory courses.
For instance, if your background is in biology and you don’t remember much of the chemistry from high school, taking an intro chemistry course at the college level might not be such a good idea. What the summer course is doing is cramming a year’s worth of material into seven weeks. That means that on week one you are taking about stoichiometry, a concept which can be a bit challenging for students first exposed to chemistry, and just a few weeks later you are talking about, and expected know quite well, titration curves of polyprotic acids. Talk about a big jump!
Additionally, it’s not like the material presented in this course operates in modules that don’t have to do much with one another-every new material builds on that already presented before, which means you need to be on top of everything during each step of the process.
Does this mean I’m against science summer classes? Absolutely not! Quite a few students I work with take summer courses and do really well in them. I just emphasize that you should know what you are walking into when you make such a decision. If you already have some background in the class topic and are taking the class to satisfy a requirement, you are probably in a good position to excel. And even if you do not have a background in the class, there are tools to help you succeed. Making sure you are on top of the material every step of the way is crucial to doing well. Don’t leave studying for the last minute. This doesn’t work well for regular classes, and it absolutely will not work well for summer ones. In addition seeking the help of a science tutor to help you along the way and guide your studying can really make a huge difference.
Whatever your situation, I always encourage students to take on a challenge, but also recommend that you get the right tools to set yourself up for success. And remember—just because you’re in class a few hours a day doesn’t mean you can’t still kick back and relax. After all…you’ve still got those summer nights.