Sunshine and study go together far better than you might think, according to university students who sign up for summer school.

This intensive six-week programme provides undergraduate, post-graduate and general education courses during the break and the opportunity for students to network and socialise with like-minded peers.

From subjects about the rise of the graphic novel to mathematical modelling, pop vocal performance and molecules that changed the world, there are courses to suit every interest and study area.

Some subjects contribute towards core components of recognised bachelor degrees; others are of interest as electives while preparatory courses provide the additional skills students need to succeed at university, such as academic writing and efficient note-taking.

Advertisement

Why attend summer school?

While studying over summer may not appeal to everyone, there are some compelling reasons for attending summer school.

For new university students, it can provide an opportunity to learn more about a topic they may need for their full-time degree.

"Not all summer school subjects are suitable for first years but we do have some that work well," says Dr Elaine Webster, director of summer school and continuing education at the University of Otago.

"For example, if science students don't have a strong background in physics it can be very helpful for them to do a summer school course prior to starting university."

The University of Canterbury offers dedicated non-credit summer school courses such as basic chemistry that help cover any knowledge gaps in preparation for first-year studies.

Students who haven't decided which university to attend can use summer school to see which campus would suit them best. Attending classes, submitting assessment and meeting fellow classmates can help them make an informed decision about where to enrol.

For first-time students who may be nervous about starting university, summer school provides a less daunting introduction to tertiary study.

With the majority of other students away on holidays, the campus is quieter yet all of the resources such as the library and student services are still available.

Even better, few people tend to be using them. This provides an opportunity for students to get additional support in areas such as library research skills as staff members have more time to work with students one-on-one.

Generic non-credit university skills courses are available, covering topics such as effective note-taking, essay writing and information retrieval skills. For mature students or those who have not been in a formal learning environment for some time, these courses often provide a confidence boost as well as additional academic skills.

Summer school also provides additional support for students who need to do well in a subject they may not be particularly good at. For example, statistics is vital for students majoring in engineering, commerce or any of the sciences, while physics is a key subject for the physical sciences, biochemistry and engineering. Summer school programmes offer subjects such as statistics and supplementary physics which give students the boost they need to succeed in their degree.

The benefits of summer school

Whether summer school students want to improve low grades or stretch themselves academically to achieve excellence in their degree, they have chosen (and paid) to be there.

This means tutors seldom waste valuable learning time dealing with disinterested students, something which creates a stimulating learning environment.

Small classes encourage deeper learning and give students the chance to develop additional skills such as how to make robust academic arguments in assignments.

Summer school teachers also tend to be very experienced. They are accustomed to running carefully curated courses which support students to learn a lot in a short time.

In some cases, the teachers themselves can inspire students to attend summer school.

Brandon Couch, a third-year Bachelor of Arts student at Otago, was inspired to attend when he discovered an interesting course was being run by a favourite tutor.

"I signed up for 'Four Fantasy Worlds of Modern Fiction' at the beginning of this year. The course was being run by one of my favourite tutors and was only available at summer school.

"It was also the last time it was being offered. I thought it would be crazy not to check it out."

An unexpected bonus was the chance to meet new students with a shared passion for literature.

"We were all interested in the subject but a lot of people in the class weren't doing an English major. Summer school means you can study a subject you really want to do, even if it is different to your usual degree."

Enrolling at summer school

Summer school courses take around half the time as the same subject taken during semester, but the accelerated programme is intensive.

Auckland University advises that two 15-credit point summer school courses are equal to or, in some cases, greater than a 60-credit course load during normal semester.

Otago suggests that one summer school credit point equates to approximately 10 hours of work. Students with a grade point average of less than 3.5 are advised to take just one subject at summer school due to the demanding teaching and learning format.

However, it is also possible to attend summer school without the pressure of submitting assignments and sitting exams. Otago offers "Interest Only" enrolment for those wishing to explore a topic of interest without completing assessment items. This option is open anyone who is not enrolled at the university.

As summer school classes tend to be smaller, it is easier for students to get to know their teachers and fellow classmates. Students are also part of the university community at one of the most enjoyable times of the year.

In Dunedin, "the weather is beautiful, it is the very best time to be in the city," according to Dr Webster, who encourages students to get involved in the social aspect of their summer studies.

Many exciting events also come to town at this time, such as the St Jerome's Laneway Festival and International Buskers Festival, making it easy to find reasons to socialise.

Summer school offers an enjoyable introduction to university life, where social and academic development come together to create a unique and rewarding learning environment.