Taking harder classes in the summer has its benefits

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The hectic life of a typical college student includes juggling work hours, preparing for post-graduation life, nurturing a social life and dealing with a full course-load. Now pack all of that into half the time.

This daunting notion is how spring and summer terms at BYU appear to many. Students wonder how they can balance everything without burning out before the seven weeks are up. But students should first consider their individual circumstance before ruling out spring/summer classes.

BYU students return to school to start spring/summer classes. Photo by Elliot Miller.
BYU students return to school to start spring/summer classes. Photo by Elliot Miller.

Take Lauren Moxley, for example. Moxley, a junior from Henderson, Nevada, studying neuroscience, dared to enroll in a spring session of organic chemistry — a 300-level course on campus that demands a lot of work.

“I heard I was crazy for trying to take organic chemistry during spring,” Moxley said. “But I figured it would be easier for me personally to take it without any other classes occupying my time.”

The spring course offering allowed Moxley to stick to her academic timeline. She’s now on track to take the MCAT.

Moxley mentioned several perks she experienced as a spring student, despite the fact the term was so fast-paced. There are approximately 250 students in a typical organic chemistry class, but during the spring that number drops to 150–200.

“I noticed that there were more TAs available to help me,” Moxley said. “I was also able to develop better friendships with the kids in class, so I had a solid study group.”

Jennifer Nielson, an associate teaching professor at BYU, has experience teaching organic chemistry during the fall/winter and spring/summer semesters. Her fall and winter classes meet for a mere 50 minutes, but the spring and summer class periods extend to two hours.

Nielson has to make adjustments due to the tighter schedule, even though the content of the class largely remains the same. She administers three lengthier exams in the spring/summer rather than the usual four in the fall/winter.

“I’ll also change the structure of the class in terms of how much time I’ll spend on concepts,” Nielson said. “But because I have a two-hour window to play with, I can package things in a better time frame.”

Students constantly build upon previously learned concepts in chemistry classes, making longer class periods beneficial.

“One of the big advantages for me is that I don’t have to get students back up to speed every time I finish a concept,” Nielson said. “Since I have students for two hours instead of one, we can take a 10-minute break halfway through class, come back and build on the concept I’ve just taught. There are definitely less start-up costs.”

Nielson mentioned further advantages such as students getting the opportunity to meet with their teaching assistants twice as often. Many of her students take a lab class concurrently, which also meets for longer periods of time. The lengthy four-hour block allows students to finish an experiment in one class period instead of coming in another day to set up from scratch.

Spring and summer mean greater flexibility for professors. Nielson has the freedom to implement new teaching methods in longer class periods, but in return gives up prime family vacation time and a research season. Professors teaching during the summer get spread thin in many ways.

“There are some great advantages to spring/summer, but I don’t think it’s for everybody,” Nielson said. “I’ve seen some students completely thrive where they didn’t in a semester with so many distractions. But others need the time to think deeply and practice the concepts. It depends on the student. It really does.”

BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins offered advice for students looking to take classes in the spring and summer.

“The student will receive the same information as in the fall and winter, but it will all be more compact,” Jenkins said. “Students will need to realize this before enrolling in a term and be prepared to move at a fast pace. Students will need to be aware, pay attention and stay up on work.”

Other schools, such as BYU—Idaho and The University of Utah, similarly offer optional summer terms in addition to their normal academic tracks. They are mindful, though, that some classes simply do not fit within the shorter time frame.

Amy Whatcott, admissions counselor at BYU—Idaho, mentioned the seven-week program offered in the summer includes a narrowed selection of courses due to the limited number the university can condense.

“Every student is different, but having more time to ask questions and be familiar with the material is always helpful,” Whatcott said.

Moxley held to her preference for taking the class on its own.

“If I could do it again, I would probably keep with spring based on my personal circumstances,” Moxley said. “Though I think taking it during a longer time period would’ve been helpful.”

Nielson believes a way to compromise with the spring/summer issue is through a “sprummer” organic chemistry class that the university has offered in the past. This course lasts the length of a semester, yet also holds many of the same benefits students look for in taking term classes.

“They are still focusing solely on organic chemistry but without cramming it into seven weeks. It seemed to go better for students than a fall or winter had.”

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