Are Summer Classes Harder? Only If You Want Them to Be

Are summer classes harder or easier than regular school year classes? It’s an age-old question that many panicky, pent-up students start asking themselves when they realize that their next few months aren’t going to be solely spent reading trashy romance novels by the pool.

But who says you can’t mix school with pleasure?

I’m going to lay out how you can plan your summer schedule to be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. It’s up to you to knock out a harder course during summer school or simply punch the clock to get course credit for an easier class.

Summer School Is Definitely Harder

The first camp claims that summer school classes are harder than regular school classes. Maybe it’s just because anything is harder than taking three months off and working on a suntan. But believe it or not, there are other factors that can potentially make summer school courses more difficult than your regular college classes. Here are a few:

#1 No Time for Procrastination

Let’s face it, you’re human… right? I figured as much! Well, chances are you’re slightly (a’hem) prone to procrastination.

Here’s the bad news: that simply won’t fly in summer school. Just the tiniest bit of procrastination, or a single missed class, can lead to a potential domino effect of failure since you won’t have much time to catch up on missed work during the short semester. In an environment when tests can come once a week, there’s really no room for error or playing hooky when you should be studying.

So if you tend to put things off and take your time, chances are you’ll find summer school a bit more challenging than normal school classes.

#2 Lots of Material

So you thought your spring Anthropology 1140 class covered a ton of material, did you? Well if you take the next Anthropology unit over the summer, you’re going to be digging into your course material even faster!

Professors need to cover a whole lot of material in a short amount of time, which means that you’ll need to absorb a lot of information really quickly

What’s this all boil down to? You may find yourself in a situation where you have a quiz, a lab, and a midterm all in the same week! But don’t worry, the summer session is short and the pain will be over quickly.

#3 Professor’s Expectations Are the Same

Many professors will have the same expectations of you over the summer as they would have during the normal school year. You are going to have to show up on time and regularly, finish your homework, and limit your extracurricular activities so you can get above average grades on your exams.

Your professor is busy working over the summer teaching you, and, chances are, she’ll want you to work hard too! I know you can do it, just make the commitment and stick to it. Oh! And if you have a hard time getting up early for class, check out these awesome tips for never missing your 9 o’clock lecture.

#4 New Material Is Difficult

As you’ve probably already discovered by now, learning new subjects can be tough! If you sign up for that exciting summer astronomy course, for example, you may be shocked to find out that it’s not all about gazing at the stars and memorizing the constellations (yeah there’s some of that…).

There is some legit new stuff you’ll have to learn to master astronomy, so don’t get too excited about jumping on a mission to Mars just yet. First you’re going to need to figure out the difference between absolute and apparent magnitude and learn how to calculate escape velocity!

Classes you’ve never taken before can be very challenging since all the material is brand new—unlike the universe, which is 13.77 billion years old (and counting).

#5 Hours and Hours of Reading

Are you a slower reader, like me? Or does reading put you to sleep in less time than it takes you to turn the page? If so, you may want to avoid taking that Shakespeare course this summer or any other class with a ton of reading on its syllabus. You don’t want to fall behind on your homework because of simply having too much reading and too little time. If reading too slowly is often a problem for you, you may want to learn the art of speed-reading.

#6 Limited Time

Oh, so you’re planning on bussing tables at Applebee’s full-time, going camping with your friends, and acing your summer Greek Literature class in the next four weeks, are you? Well you may need a reality check. Summer school leaves little time for much else, what with all that homework, and testing, and class time.

Remember, you’re not immortal; I encourage you to be careful before you venture out this summer and try to take on too many challenges at once.

But before you get too freaked out, fear not! There’s some pretty solid evidence that summer school classes are actually easier than normal college classes.

Actually… Summer School Is Easier

The second “camp” claims that summer school is actually easier. Maybe this is because the hot summer sun makes professors feel relaxed and lenient. But I’ve actually compiled a pretty solid list of more probable reasons for why you could potentially skate through summer school:

#1 A Pared-Down Syllabus

Wooohoo! You only have to do a portion of the assignments that the Art History students had to do last spring! It’s time for celebration, especially if Art History is just a filler class for you. The time constraint of the short summer school schedule doesn’t allow for everything to be crammed in; that would be crazy.

This means that teachers will typically only pick out the most important aspects of the course to teach. But beware! This method is easier in some subjects (English and art classes for example) than it is in others classes (like sciences and math) where a foundation of knowledge must be meticulously laid (less can be left out).

#2 Graduate Students and Postdocs Are More Lenient Teachers

Fact: some summer school teachers are easier than the regular school year profs. This is because they are often postdoc or graduate students trying to get some teaching experience in.

There is a really great tool on the web for you to use to help you determine whether your potential summer school teacher is tough or not, but I’ll give you more on that later in this post. So hang on!

#3 You Already Know This Stuff!

Are you taking this summer class to re-take a class that you didn’t do too well in last fall? Well it may be disappointing for you to have to re-take the class, but the good news—no the great news—is that it should be easier the second go around, as you’ll already be somewhat familiar with the material. Ummm…assuming you didn’t sleep through all the lectures the first time, of course.

#4 No Time to Forget

Do you suffer from I forgot what the heck I learned in the beginning of the school year syndrome? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! And even better, you won’t have that problem this summer. During summer school, since you are covering a subject over a few weeks, rather than a few months, there is less time to forget the material. You learned the stuff just a few weeks ago, so the information you need to know for the final exam is still “fresh”.

#5 Smaller Class Sizes

The smaller class sizes of summer school mean that there is more opportunity for you to interact with your teachers, and you’ll have more chances to get all of your questions answered.

In fact, Professor Ellen Bremen, the Chatty Professor, encourages you to take advantage of this and talk to your professor every day if necessary, starting from day one. She writes, “If you need an A, or any other grade, in that summer school class, see the prof before the first class, after the first class, or walk with him/her out to the parking lot if you have to (but no stalking!).”

I know what you’re thinking by now: “Hmmm… so it seems like summer school classes really are easier. Sign me up, Sally!”

Not so fast.

Before I jumped to this conclusion and started recommending students earn some easy credit over summer, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t unknowingly sending you to the summer schools slaughterhouse. In fact, I chatted with four different college summer school professors and asked them what their opinions are on the difficulty level of summer school classes compared to normal school courses.

Is Summer School Harder or Easier? Here’s What the Profs Say

Professor Bradley Hyman at UC Riverside says, “I taught Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology, normally a ten-week quarter, compressed into a five-week summer quarter. We met four days a week for 1.5 hours and had two allied laboratories per week instead of one. Sometimes students were taking midterm exams and handing in laboratory reports in the same week!”

YIKES! That sounds like a nightmare.

Unfortunately, Professor Morris Maduro didn’t offer much to alleviate our concerns. He told me, “I make the same demands of students in terms of knowledge, scholarship, and responsibility. Exams, assessments, and expectations are the same as during the regular academic year.”

Oof…that’s not very good news, is it…?

But there’s hope… so don’t get too stressed out just yet.

The associate dean of UC Riverside Department of Biology Dr. Leah Haimo, says, “It is often not regular faculty who teach in the summer, but graduate students or postdocs. (For this reason), most summer school classes are not as rigorous as are the regular courses…mostly because they are not taught by regular faculty.”

Thank you Dr. Haimo for that good news, right? And she’s not alone in her opinion that you can get through the summer with little stress. 

I also talked to Dr. Eva Telzer, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and she says, “If I were teaching summer school I would be more flexible, given that the schedule is more packed and there’s less time for the students to develop.”

Phew! So they’re not all out to make your summer miserable.

Tips for Summer School Survival

So what’s this all boil down to? Can summer school really be a good time to bank some course credit without sacrificing your entire summer?

Yes, it can be, as long as you follow these three tips on how to survive summer school:

#1 Watch Your Credit Load

If you’re going to take multiple classes, make sure they are redos or less intensive courses (e.g. don’t take organic chemistry, physics, and calculus). Typically you shouldn’t take more than two classes simultaneously, three at most, because the classes in the summer are so intensive.  In fact, most schools have a maximum credit load limit that ranges from 8-15 credits for the entire summer semester.

#2 Select Subjects That Make You Feel Like a Ninja!

If you are trying to pick an easy summer load, then select subjects that you are strong in (for me that would be English), rather than subjects that make you scratch your head in confusion (Chemistry…ick!). On the flip side, if you are trying to challenge yourself, or knock out your most hated subject, this summer, plan to take a single class that you find difficult, and focus on it like a laser beam.

#3 Snag the Most Popular College Courses

At some universities, courses that are hard to get into during the spring and fall semesters will be offered during the summer to meet demand, so this could be your chance to get into that awesome Film History class that you’ve been waitlisted for every semester since your freshman year.  But be careful, summer classes are typically first come first serve, so sign up as early as possible, especially if you’re going for the hottest course offered in your school.

And finally this brings us to the most helpful, amazing tip of all to make sure that your summer school experience isn’t too hard to handle.

#4 Use College Professor Ratings to See if Your Professors Are Easy (or Hot!)

Even if you choose less intensive classes, you can still get stuck with a “hard” teacher. Make sure you research the professor you’re considering taking a class from before you sign up.

Remember how we got you all freaked out when we told you what Professor Hyman said? Good news, according to, it turns out he’s rated a 2.3 out of 5 rating for “easiness,” showing that he is somewhere between an “easy A” and “the usual” when it comes to difficulty (a 5 score would denote he’s the hardest prof). So no need to get too worried, just try to avoid those 5s on the easiness scale if you don’t want a tough professor over the summer.

Rate Your Professors

Now let’s say that you need to take an intensive chemistry course this summer to get those science credits you’re after. The best way to survive a summer chemistry course would be to avoid the hardest chemistry professor in the whole school (that is, unless you’re some kind of proton-neutron-lovin’ genius!).

Here’s a Step-by-Step Tutorial Showing How To Find Ratings for Professors

Step 1: Search Your School

In this example we are searching Diablo Valley College – Pleasant Hill.

How to use rate your professors

Step 2: Select the Appropriate Department

Now select “chemistry” from the department drop down menu.

are summer school classes harder

Step 3: Sort By the Easy Professors

Now sort the profs by the “easiness” column by clicking on the blue column header.

How to find an easy chemistry professor

And voila! We’ve discovered Chemistry Professor Richard Samuelson is the hardest of the chem teachers at Diablo Valley College, with a 5.0 easiness rating, which means “hardest thing I’ve ever done” according to the scale.  And check this out, he’s been rated by 5 students, which makes his rating more believable than Professor Dorota, who has been rated by only one student so far.

To find the easiest prof, just look for a 1 or 2 score in the easiness scale. 🙂

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 1.19.58 PM

 Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 10.08.13 AM*Side note* if you’re looking for eye-candy this summer, just look for professors with hot peppers by their names. But, really, how do these teachers feel about being objectified? Dr. Telzer sarcastically reveals that hot peppers are “all she wants!” Love them for their brains, people!

Step 4: Read the Reviews!

This is the fun part where you really get to find out the dirt on your potential prof. Previous students will have left glowing or hateful reviews of the professor in question. Be sure to read a few to make sure this professor has the qualities you seek in your ideal summer school teacher. (And when you’re done with your summer school class, leave a review of your own!)

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 1.27.15 PM

Final Thoughts on Summer School

The Lesson? Summer School can be easier than normal school, you just have to make sure you play your cards right.

Just like during a normal school semester, summer school classes are either easy or difficult depending on your comfort with the course material and the difficulty of the professors. You can end up with a hard schedule if you overload yourself, or get stuck with a tough teacher.

But if you are looking for an easier summer schedule, make sure to do your research and choose your subject and professor wisely, consider how much time you want to spend doing schoolwork over the summer, and you’ll be fine. You can still enjoy your summer and get a little school credit if you plan accordingly.

Share your summer school experiences with us. Was it difficult? Was it a breeze? Let us know in the comments!


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  • Tanner Littleton

    I took two gen eds last summer (a social science course about the influence of technology on society and an oral communications course), I took one in June and the other in July, it was fairly easy and I still had a lot of leisure time. Not sure how two courses in the same and/or a more difficult course would have gone over for me.

    • Naomi Tepper

      Yeah, I think one of the biggest benefits of summer classes is when you can take them one at a time. It’s so much easier to focus on and absorb a single subject.

      • Tanner Littleton

        Agreed, which is why I got a high A on both classes, 97% on both of them.

  • Will

    I’m taking differential eq, circuits analysis II, and matlab all during a single summer session. First week was hell, but I got ahead by reading my differential eq book before my classes even started. This took away from a lot of unnecessary pressure that a lot of my classmates are feeling. A good majority of the class has already dropped the course.

    If you’re going to take any type of difficult class during the summer, I would suggest finding a syllabus online for the course and buying the book early. That way you can go over the material on your own before you even step foot in the class and just treat the course like an “answer to the hard questions” class.

    • Naomi Tepper

      Awesome tip. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Michael Harper

    For the record on ratemyprofessor though. 5 on the easiness scale means it is hard. The scale for easy is 1(easy A)-5(hardest thing I have ever done) those are literally the notes for the ranking from the site itself.

    • Hi Michael–thanks for the comment! I’ve updated the content accordingly. This reminds me that this post needs a refresh all around. The RateMyProfessor platform has changed a bit since we first published this. Cheers!

  • I echo Will’s comment. Ask the professor for the syllabus before hand to get a better sense of what it will be like. Definitely get ahead on the reading. And most importantly, try to cut back hours, if you work, during those class times.

    I did a 5 weeks ethics class a few summers back that wasn’t bad once I got into the beat of it. I got ahead of the reading each week. The last week was intense with a quiz, final, research paper, online discussion, and reading (which I already finished that week before); it was all due by the Friday of that week as well, not the typical Saturday due date. Made it with an A.

    Another course (basically why I searched this) I am taking but will drop because of the lack of time and my poor planning skills is a 4-week course. It’s a public speaking class. It is bonkers that there is already a speech planned for the first week on the second day. A reason why I should have asked the professor earlier about the syllabus or searched for his name and class number (I should start uploading syllabi to somewhere like Scribd). Then I’d realize I would not have enough time for both work and prepping for a speech.

    • The compressed schedules of summer classes definitely makes it harder to balance other obligations, but you’re right that checking the syllabus first is a good idea! I’m sorry to hear that your speech class won’t work out :/