Now a somewhat official term for K-12 teachers, “summer learning loss” is understood to be a serious problem in education. Less is known about the summer effect for college students, but studies show that more learning loss occurs the older the child gets. It’s almost certain that college students take a step backward in the summer months.


Experts say that students lose 2.6 months of the previous year’s learning over the summer. That little factoid has its roots in a 1996 University of Missouri study that gave standardized tests to kids at the end of the school year and at the beginning of the next. Researchers found that the students lost about “one-tenth of a standard deviation,” or about a month’s worth of learning overall. But, when it came to “fact and procedure-based knowledge” (aka math), that number jumped to 2.6 months of loss.


That fact is of crucial importance for college students studying complex math, medicine, engineering, foreign language or science. Similar studies have shown that the learning loss affects students from low-income households more, as those children have less access to educational environments over the summer. Those students also had the greatest gains during the school year.


This supports the idea that classrooms are great equalizers, and that much of learning is simply about putting yourself in a stimulating environment.


Whether it’s an internship, a tutoring opportunity or simply forming relationships with people who are passionate about your field, build your own community over the summer months ahead — and make it one that keeps your brain working.