The Pitt News

Take advantage of summer classes

By Jordan Drischler | For The Pitt News

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When you think of summer, you most likely envision days on the beach, Fourth of July picnics with your extended family and a general period of relaxation while you prepare for a new school year to start in the fall.

The last thing you want to do is spend those warm, sunny days inside the classroom, but for many students — including myself — this is the case.

Whether it’s to take classes that fill up during the school year, a required upper-level course or squeezing in those last general education classes, there are many reasons students decide to spend their summer learning at Pitt. As a participant in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Cooperative Education Program, I was required to take summer courses in order to maintain my desired graduation date. Regardless of what your reason for enrolling in summer courses is, be sure to expect the unexpected.

I’ve taken summer courses for the last three years, and am currently enrolled in 15 credits. During these stretches I’ve had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of summer life at Pitt — what’s positive, negative and just plain different — as well as realizing how Pitt can improve its summer services.

If a regular school semester is a marathon, summer classes are sprints.

The most notable difference between summer and fall/spring classes is the number of days you spend in the classroom. Instead of spending an average of an hour, three times a week, in the span of 15 weeks, you can expect the average summer course to be two-and-a-half hours, once a week, in a 14 week semester. Additionally, certain courses are offered in four, six and 12 week sessions, increasing the pace of the class even more.

Initially this may sound intimidating, but faster-paced scheduling means students have more time outside the classroom. As a result, there’s more time to work on projects, complete homework and study for the exams — as well as time for a summer job if you are taking a limited number of classes.

Another benefit to summer classes is the smaller, intimate class sizes.  Being an engineering student, a typical fall or spring semester class has about 75 students. A comparable summer course is almost half that number with most of my current classes averaging 40 students. Likewise, a six-week history elective I just completed had a class size of merely a dozen.

While smaller classes are a refreshing break from the crowded lecture halls I’m used to, this inevitably comes at a cost.

Unlike a typical semester where full-time students are billed the same tuition unless you exceed 18 credits, summer students are generally billed on a per-credit basis. For example, taking 15 credits as an in-state student in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences costs $8,646 in the fall, whereas in the summer it would cost the same student $10,800.

Student life and convenience take a hit in the summer too. The many staples of the college environment — dorm life, meal plans and those helpful shuttles to get you up Cardiac Hill — are significantly limited during this time.

As opposed to the usual selection of on-campus housing available, look forward to spending your summer in Tower C, the only dorm that remains open. While on-campus housing is limited, many opportunities open up for off-campus housing. With a majority of students home for the summer, subletting in South Oakland is abundant.

Likewise, dining services experience reduced hours and some locations close completely during the summer months. The all-encompassing Market Central takes a much needed rest and closes its doors with the exception of certain visitation dates. The Perch and certain Einstein Bro. Bagels locations also remain closed. Several cafe-like options as well as Market To Go operate on reduced schedules and three meal plans consisting solely of dining dollars are offered.

The shuttles also reduce the number of available routes from nine in the spring and fall months to four in the summer — combining North and South Oakland shuttles into longer thirty minute trips to handle the lighter traffic.

Other limited services available include a reduction of tutoring services available, a cutback in computer lab hours and a lack of activities and programs that make the academic year memorable.

While the summer semester is designed to be different and many students are not seeking the same environment as a typical semester, there are some ways in which Pitt could improve its summer services.

One of the best ways to help students adjust to the summer months is by making information regarding the summer term more accessible and prominent to students. Many of the differences mentioned were discovered when I needed a service only to be met by a locked door.

When turning to the University’s website for guidance, it left me searching for a small link in the corner to take me to information about the summer’s operations. By advertising what services are available and when, Pitt can better inform its students of what to expect and how to plan their summer schedule.

Another area in which Pitt can enhance its summer offerings is by promoting them. Summer courses are the same high-quality education provided by the University as any other semester.

Throughout the school year you have probably been subjected to programs promoting summer study abroad and internship opportunities, but may have had far less exposure to Pitt’s summer course offerings.

Summer courses are a real asset. If more students enroll in summer courses, we could potentially see more services become available to those students. Fostering growth from within benefits everyone.

The big question we all may have is, “Is it really it worth it?”

Based on my experiences with summer classes, I would say yes. For me, it helped me stay on track for graduation since I participated in the co-op program. It allowed me to take more challenging courses during the summer, where classes are typically more laid-back and smaller class sizes, offering more individual attention. For others, it might mean getting ahead and potentially graduating sooner.

You can never truly know if a summer term is the right fit for you until you try it. So if you’re on the fence about enrolling, I say go for it.

Drop the beach ball and pick up the books — there is no off-season in learning.

Write to Jordan Drischler at

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Take advantage of summer classes