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Summer Classes Are All the Rage, But Are They Valued by Colleges?

Many high school students are looking to impress colleges over the summer. If they can't find a job or another summer experience, taking a summer class sounds like a good idea. But is it? And are summer classes necessary?

Ask any admissions officer and they will tell you that they are not expecting students to take summer classes, nor do they want them doing this. That's what the school year is for. Summer is supposed to allow students to do something they don't have time to do during the school year. Taking classes, whether they are high school-level or college-level, are not nearly as helpful as students think.

First, classes are never "reportable" on the student's activities list.
It's not like a job, volunteering, family responsibilities, or other experiences that students can do over the summer. In fact, there is no designated space for a student to list extra summer classes unless they appear on the transcript. That's right. If a student takes a class at a college one summer, they can list that college under the "Education" section of the Common App and the dates they took the class, but that's it. There's no room to list the actual class title and the grade the student received. Sure, the student could send a transcript to all the colleges on their list or even provide this information in the "Additional Information" section of the Common App. But this is a message to students: colleges aren't expecting them to take classes over the summer. If they did, there would be a section devoted to capturing this information on the application!
Second, most students are so burnt out from the school year that taking a class means they won't have a break from school work. These students start the next school year feeling drained. Taking a break from classes is important for a student's mental health. 
Third, these classes are expensive, especially the college-level classes. Most private colleges charge several thousands of dollars per summer class. In an era when college admissions officers are careful not to give preferences to wealthy students, summer classes are the opposite of what they expect students to do. 
As always, there are some exceptions when it comes to taking summer classes. For example, if a student needs a certain class to graduate from high school and their school year schedule does not permit it, they might have to take a summer class. I just met with a student this week who is taking Health over the summer because they couldn't fit it into their schedule during the school year. A health class or another less demanding required class is usually very manageable to do over the summer and still allows the student to do something else.
However, core academic classes are a lot tougher to do over the summer. Think about it—the teacher is trying to condense the content from an entire school year class into a fraction of the time. A class like Precalculus or Physics (or any other core academic class) taken over the summer will literally consume the student's time, leaving very little space to do anything else. Especially for math classes, I see students struggle in the summer class or struggle in the next class in the sequence the following school year. So think through this choice before diving into it.
If a student does not do well in a school year class, sometimes they consider retaking the class in the summer. I typically wouldn't do this unless the student got a D or an F, though.
And what about the student who wants to take a core academic class during the summer to reduce their course load from the school year? Admissions officers prefer to see the five core academic classes taken during the school year. If there is a true scheduling conflict during the school year with a core academic class, then the student sometimes doesn't have a choice. They can explain why they took a summer class in the "Additional Information" section just to make it clear why they did it. 

READ MORE: Does the Letter of Recommendation Still Matter in College Admissions?

In the end, there aren't many circumstances that necessitate a summer class. Instead, students should consider doing something that they need to do, want to do, and can do (for free) this summer. Taking classes over the summer takes time away from doing something meaningful to students and to colleges.