Should I Go To Summer School?

Summer school is an option available to students at educational institutions all across the world. It is a way to fast-track your qualifications or make up for lost credits by studying over the end-of-year break in Australia. But is it worth giving up your summer holidays to sit in lecture theatres? We spoke to Master of Public Health student, Siddhartha, and Masters in Marketing student, Stanley, for their opinions on the summer school experience.

What is summer school? 

Summer school offers students intensive courses that are taught over a period of 2-4 weeks – usually in January and/or February – instead of the usual 10-week duration of a university semester. The first week is usually the most exhaustive, with each day comprising two lectures and tutorials. Sometimes there are tests that take place during the week, and most assignments are due 2-4 weeks after that. If there is a group presentation, it will usually take place on the last day of the course. Some summer intensive courses have an exam component as well.

Why do students go to summer school? 

Students choose to attend summer school for various reasons. Some courses are only taught in summer school, which might be appealing to students who are interested in that particular area of study. They may also feature visiting expert lecturers or academics. Students gain the same university credits from a summer intensive course as they would over the course of a traditional semester – but the benefit of summer school is that you learn more in less time. A paper published in 2014 in the Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education showed that intensive courses are just as good as semester-long courses. Summer school can also be an option to gain credits if you have failed courses in the past and need to make up the class.

Can you go to summer school as an international student?  

You certainly can! International students can attend summer school without any affect on their student visa. International student visas are valid until the end of their enrolment period, and summer school falls within this time frame. In fact, some international students who do not have plans to travel home during the holidays prefer to do a course or two over the summer break to use their time productively! 

*Note: Undertaking summer school courses may impact your Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) visa. To be eligible for this visa, you must have completed a course at least 92 weeks in length and also completed study in no less than 16 months. Finishing your course quickly may leave you with a student period of less than 16 months. In addition, as long as you hold a student visa, you must have a valid Certificate of Enrolment. If you finish your studies six months early, you must either apply for a new course with a new Certificate of Enrolment or a new visa, if you are eligible. Please seek advice from a Registered Migration Agent if you need visa assistance.

Is summer school worth doing as an international student? 

We chatted with Siddhartha Guha (Sid), a second-year Master of Public Health student at the University of Adelaide, who attended summer school in February 2020. His course was called Health Systems Thinking, which involved three weeks of study. The first week was the most intensive, with classes running from Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm. Students had to complete quizzes, there was a group presentation on the final day of the course, and assignments were due well into the first month of semester one. 

Sid is practical when it comes to his opinion on summer school.

“I think it’s a personal preference for everyone because there are pros and cons.”

Cons of summer school: Sid thinks that the summer school course he attended could have been easily integrated into a normal semester, given that Health Systems Thinking asked students to develop a “whole new way of thinking” – something that does not happen in just one or two weeks.

“As an international student, my primary goal in Australia is to study, so it does not make sense to be rushing myself into finishing a course in one month when I can easily spread it out and do it over a whole semester,” he says.

Pros of summer school: “A benefit of summer school is that you are done with one course, your semester feels a bit lighter, and that’s one less subject – including assignments – to be worried about,” Sid said.

Advice for summer school: Sid thinks that summer courses are more useful for domestic students or students who are working while studying. His advice for students who are thinking of attending summer school is:

“If you are only studying, then opt to do courses during the semester, because it gives you time to build the relevant thought processes and dive into them.” 

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We also spoke to Stanley Feetham, a first-year student doing a Masters in Marketing at the University of South Australia. Stanley attended a summer course in Strategic Management in the final year of his undergraduate degree. The intensive course ran for one week (Monday to Friday), with lectures and tutorials that ran between 9am to 5pm. The course involved one exam and several assignments due one to two weeks after the course ended. 

“In a way it was the best thing to do, because the content was super fresh in my mind,” says Stanley. “Even though it was hard work, I personally think you can get decent results in the exam as a result of the intensive course.” 

Pros of summer school: You get an entire course done in one week!

“I took a week off work to do this course, which meant that I could do three courses rather than four in my next semester,” shares Stanley. “Not only did this mean I could be more relaxed, I could also complete all of my work to a high standard. And for those who have a job on the side [of their studies], I think summer school makes a lot of sense.” 

Cons of summer school: “Exhausting, intensive, a lot to take in.” 

Advice for summer school: Stanley recommends making sure the course is right for you, and that it fits in with your job schedule and life. You need to be fully committed when the course is running. It will be a long and exhausting week, but the next semester will be less busy.

“You never remember the work you put in, but you always remember the result,” Stanley says.

So… should I go to summer school?

If you are thinking of attending summer school, make sure to check what courses your institution is offering. If something interests you and the course only runs in summer school, then you should definitely do it. Just make sure you are able to take time off work and dedicate that time to the course. However, if you prefer to spread the workload over a full semester, so that you can immerse yourself more deeply in the subject, then that’s a fantastic option too.