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The Ultimate Guide to Summer Courses at a Community College

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ultimate-guide-to-community-college-summer-classesAre you a community-college student who’s thinking about enrolling in courses this summer? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Taking summer classes is a great way to get ahead and ensure that you’ll graduate on time. Registration for summer courses usually begins in April/May and classes fill up quickly! Be sure to make your plans early to avoid missing out on the classes you need.

I’m here to help you make the most out of your summer courses by taking the right ones, avoiding common pitfalls, and knowing how it will affect your financial aid. Let’s get started.

Why Take Summer Courses?

  • Early graduation. The Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are designed to be completed in two years (four semesters). If you are on the two-year track and started community college in the fall, you really only have one summer semester before graduation (fall, spring, summer, fall, spring, and then graduation!). Every class you take during the summer session brings you one step closer to completing your degree ahead of schedule!
  • Complete prerequisites for higher-level courses. If you are majoring in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), then you already know how hard it is to fit all of your prerequisite courses into four semesters. If you take your prerequisite mathematics and science courses (like Chemistry 2, Biology 2, and Calculus 2) over the summer, then you’ll have more time during the fall and spring semesters for higher-level courses, such as Organic Chemistry and Differential Equations, before transferring to a four-year college.

Looking for more ways to maximize your college experience?

Check out Diane Melville’s The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward College Experience.

learn more about the community college advantage

The Dos and Don’ts of Summer Course Selection

  • Do think before you enroll in difficult accelerated summer classes.
    An accelerated class is a class that is shortened for a summer period. Not all summer classes are considered accelerated. (Most accelerated courses will say that they are “accelerated.”) A typical semester is sixteen weeks long and an accelerated class might be closer to ten to twelve weeks in length. While most accelerated classes are great for taking an easy subject in a short period of time, you should exercise caution when enrolling in an accelerated class for difficult subjects like math and science. Accelerated classes are intense, require significantly more studying/homework time than a regular course, and should only be taken by students who are strong in those subjects.
  • Don’t ignore your prerequisite courses.
    While it may be tempting to take your general requirements and electives during the summer to get them out of the way, you should really focus on taking courses that are prerequisites for your major requirements. Humanities majors should enroll in upper-level courses in their major (for example, philosophy majors should take higher-level philosophy courses) and STEM majors should enroll in additional mathematics and science courses.

Financial Aid for Summer Courses

Financial aid is awarded on a per year basis. This means that when you apply for financial aid for the 2014–2015 school year, the summer session is included. However, most students use all of their financial aid during the fall and spring semesters and don’t have any remaining aid to cover summer classes. For example, if you qualified for a Pell Grant of $4,000 for the 2014–2015 school year, and you used $2,000 for your fall classes and $2,000 for your spring classes, then you won’t have any Pell Grant funds left for the summer.

Should you find yourself wanting to take summer classes but don’t have any more financial aid left, here are some options:

  • Private scholarships. Scholarships are a great way to pay for summer courses. The average private scholarship size is around $2,000, which is more than enough to cover the majority of your course fees. Use search engines like or to find scholarships that you may qualify for.
  • Institutional scholarships. Check with your financial aid office to see if your community college offers financial aid or scholarships for summer courses.
  • FAFSA Student Loans. If you really need to take courses this summer and you qualified for federal financial aid, find out if you have the ability to take out a Stafford loan or other loans offered by the federal government.

For more ways to keep your community, private, or public college experience affordable, check out Frank Palmasani’s Financial Fit® program.

learn more about the financial fit program

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Diane Melville has experienced community college transfer success first hand. After earning her AA in biomedical engineering from Miami Dade College, she was accepted into some of the best schools in the nation. She ultimately transferred to Babson College to earn her bachelor of science in entrepreneurship and marketing. Diane has dedicated her career as an education professional, entrepreneur, and public speaker to advocating for community college reform and bettering the financial aid system.

Melville is the author of The Community College Advantage.