From Summer Blues to Summer Success: How to Navigate a Summer (or Winter) Intersession Course

I’m going to be blunt: summer and winter intersession courses are hard.

Very hard.

If you want to successfully complete an intersession course, this post is for you.

What is an Intersession Course?

An intersession course is a course that is offered between (“inter”) regular semesters, or sessions. They typically begin and end within a few days of the Fall and Spring semesters. Jumping from a regular semester into an intersession course is one of the things that makes them difficult – students get very little intellectual downtime between semesters.

Intersession courses can be face-to-face, but more often (these days) they are offered online. Online offerings allow for a great deal of flexibility – you can take that vacation and still take a class – but bring their own challenges. In order to be successful in an online course of any kind, you have to be self-motivated and keep good track of deadlines.

Course length also varies: a summer intersession course may be the same length as a typical semester, but more often they are 8 or even 4 to 6 weeks long. This short time frame can be deadly to the unprepared student. I’ll explain why in the next section.

Short but NOT Sweet: Summer and Intersession Courses are NOT Easier

Sometimes – more often than teachers would like – students seem to approach a shortened summer class with the misconception that because the class is shorter, it will cover less material. Here’s the reality:

An intersession course has the same requirements of a semester-long course, but in a shorter time frame.

If you take an 8-week course, you are doubling the workload for every week of the course. The end of week 4 is midterm.

If you take a 4-week course, you are quadrupling the workload for every week of the course. The end of week 2 is midterm.

What does that mean?

If you’re taking a face-to-face class, expect to spend hours in the classroom, perhaps every day, and spend your out-of-class time reading and doing homework for class.¬† You will do very little besides take that class for those weeks.

If you’re taking an online class, expect to watch 2-4 times the number of videos, read 2-4 times the number of chapters, and do 2-4 times the homework, for each week of the course. You have more flexibility in when you do it, but the work is still there.

If either type of course requires a paper or other type of major project, it will likely be assigned very early, and to be successful, you must start on it right away.

To me, taking an online course (or teaching one, for that matter) is like jumping into a cold swimming pool. You just have to psych yourself up and do it, and then you keep swimming until you reach the other end – which comes faster than you think. What’s the best way to accomplish that?

What Should I Do?

Here are my tips for doing well in a summer class:

  1. Center the course (or courses) in your planning for the summer. Sure, you can take a trip, but be aware that one day of no internet access can be a huge problem in a summer course. It’s best to get the work done before you go, but when the semester is already very short, that’s hard to do.¬†Attending college is stressful, and it’s so easy to look at summer as “ahhhh….break time.” If you have kids, they’re going to see it as break time and you will have to work even harder to carve out that time for yourself. But if you’ve chosen to take a summer class, you have to prioritize it. Otherwise, you’ve wasted your tuition dollars.
  2. As soon as you get access to the course, download the syllabus. Get your textbook(s) immediately – you do NOT want to get behind on the reading.
  3. Get out your calendar, planner, phone – whatever you use to keep track of your life – and make note of every assignment that’s due. Set alarms, use highlighters, write sticky notes – whatever it takes to help you remember what’s coming up next.
  4. When you are entering due dates, pay attention to dates where you may have conflicts. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that you’ll get anything done on the Fourth of July (if you are in the US), or on any day that you know you’ll be working late.
  5. Choose a time of day that you will work on the course, and stick to it. If you have a specific time for getting things done, you’re more likely to stick to it. And then when you’ve gotten it done, you can set your course aside and say “ahhhhh…..summer!”


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