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To summer school or not to summer school

<p>Meagan Lowes is in her first year of the animation program at Centennial College in Toronto. </p>

Meagan Lowes is in her first year of the animation program at Centennial College in Toronto.

"The program I'm currently in goes all through the summer. We don't stop and take semesters off, it goes all the way through."

Some colleges now offer boot camp-style programs compressed into a full school year. "For me personally, last summer I was working all summer, and I'm happy to be back in school again." says Lowes. "Being a fast-tracking program is more of a benefit than a lack of benefit in my opinion, because I get done sooner, I don't lose any skills over the break, it just keeps going."

There are a variety of reasons for you to stay in school for the summer. Some students take advantage of out-of-country, travel-related courses, like studying art history in France. It's an opportunity to see the world that you might not be able to do during the regular term while taking other courses.

You can concentrate your efforts on summer courses without the distractions of the regular term. According to Gerry Kendal, Vice-Provost and Registrar at the University of Alberta, "A course that you need to get into and keep focus on, the best way to do it is when you're not interrupted by course demands in other areas. With the intense focus, you can do some tremendous work then."

Summer school is an opportunity for you to make up classes. "We'll always have a component of students doing it from a program mitigation standpoint," says Kendal. "Either making up a course they weren't able or decided not to take, or possibly failed in a prior term, or maybe trying to get a step ahead by taking one to get a prerequisite"

You can spread the workload over the year. For example, Instead of taking five courses in fall and winter, you might only take three or four courses, and pick them up in spring and summer. Then you can still complete your degree in four calendar years. As Kendal says, "A little bit less over a longer time covers the same area."

Why not go to summer school?

The foremost and obvious reason is that you'll miss out on the summer fun as well as lucrative employment opportunities. It's lonely -- your friends and family will be far away while you're toiling away on campus.

You'll find it difficult to hold down a summer job while you're taking multiple courses. As Lowes says, "There's no way I can have a job and go to school a the same time, it's way too intensive."

But with the tightening job market resulting from a slow economy, summer school becomes a viable option. "It's been really hard to find work," says Lowes. "There are summer jobs available but you have to look extremely hard to find them because people are really hanging on to the jobs that they have."

Taking the summer off allows some downtime that you might not get if you study year-round. Dr. Cheryl Washburn, Director of Counseling Services at UBC advises "If you choose to take summer session courses, it’s important to plan ahead to ensure that you get enough of a summer break to re-energize for fall courses. Also, because summer courses are more intensive, maintaining balance can be a challenge."

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