For those willing, summer session fills a gap

As the spring semester comes to a close, students are wrapping up their coursework and preparing to evacuate campus, start internships, take on summer jobs or vacation — except for those who will stick around and continue their studies uninterrupted. While the notion of summer school might sound appalling to some, others turn to Tufts’ Summer Session as a way to make their schedules more manageable throughout the school year or repent for all the classes they dropped in favor of four−day weekends and Monday−night television. But can a semester’s worth of material really be squeezed into five short weeks and, moreover, still retain the academic value of a semester−long class?

The answer, put simply, according to Lecturer of Chemistry Sergiy Kryatov, is “yes.” Kryatov, who teaches “Fundamentals of Chemical” (Chem 1) and “Principles of Chemical” (Chem 2) both over the summer and during the spring semester, said that he does not alter the course material he teaches during the Summer Session whatsoever to accommodate the time crunch. Rather, he said, the syllabus is condensed into fewer, longer classes.

“I teach Chem 1 and 2 during regular … semesters and the summer session, and I’ve been doing that at least five years, so I have enough data to compare them. I cover exactly the same material. I give out the same, or similar, assignments and exams, and the structure and content are all the same,” he said. “What differs in the summer semester is that it goes faster. The factor of acceleration is about two and a half times.”

The worry, however, that students might not absorb as much information in such a short period of time is not wholly unwarranted. While summer school is doable with the right work ethic, because of the necessary speed of the classes, students must be both diligent and otherwise unoccupied in order to succeed, Kryatov said. Sometimes, a student will try to juggle a difficult summer class with a job or internship and, literally, fail.

“What helps students do just as well in the summer is that they take fewer courses. If it’s a lab science course, I strongly suggest that students take just one class. If they take a non−lab course, they can probably take two at a time. I tell them at the beginning of the summer semester that it’s very intense and difficult, and they should spend a lot of hours studying and probably not undertake any time−consuming commitments if they’re taking something like Chem 1,” Kryatov said.

Paul Leavis, an occupational therapy lecturer who teaches physiology during the summer, agreed.

“It’s an immersion course. You kind of just have to bury yourself in it and you’ll come out fine, and I think most of the students do that,” he said.

Time crunching, however, can have its upside, David Proctor, administrator of the Department of Classics, said. The summer’s longer classes and fewer interruptions between classes allow Proctor to present a more continuous historical narrative in his course, which is very useful, he said.

“I run the course [Europe to 1815] on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6 to 9:30 p.m., so they get three regular classes packed into one night, which is a little more challenging as far as making sure the information is presented in a way that keeps everyone interested and doesn’t lag,” he said. “The positive thing is that it allows for extended presentation on topics that are interrelated to each other. I can connect topics together because I teach them all at the same time, so there’s more continuity. When I first started teaching summer school, I was concerned that they wouldn’t get it thoroughly plugged in, but the ability that I have in those three and a half−hour blocks to really weave information together and make a more cohesive narrative sort of compensates.”

The problem that sometimes accompanies summer school is not so much the condensation of material into a couple of months at most, but certain students’ expectation that summer classrooms will be host to a more relaxed atmosphere. Those students are in for a surprise, Leavis said.

“The challenge is to be a serious student when it’s 85 degrees outside and sunny. That’s hard for some people. It depends on maturity,” he said.

Certainly, students who look forward to an easy summer “A” are bound for failure, senior Julia Carlson said, but maturity plays into a student’s readiness for summer school even if they are not expecting a breezy class. Carlson, who took organic chemistry during the summer following her freshman year, said that, as a first−year student, she was simply unprepared for the course’s level of intensity. While she might have enjoyed the class — homework and all — a year or two later, summer school is not for everyone, and it’s probably not appropriate or necessary for freshmen, she said.

“When I took Orgo as someone coming out of their freshman year, I didn’t have enough experience as a college student to be able to handle the level and pace of the course I was taking. I know other people who’ve had a good experience later on in college, but I think a lot of that will play into what year the student is,” she said. “As an older student, you’re better equipped to handle summer school because you become a better studier over time.”

The main problem, she said, is that there wasn’t really anyone around to tell her when it was not a good idea to take a course over the summer. Especially for freshmen — who are not as well acquainted with the Tufts system as older students are — that can be detrimental.

“It’s a really tough issue for people who are young because they’re dealing with advisers who are not in their major and might not know about the specific classes they want to take. I got mixed advice from my professors, but there wasn’t really anyone to give definitive advice. That kind of advice should most likely come from the premed adviser, Dean Carol Baffi−Dugan,” Carlson said. “Summer school is not for everybody. A lot of classes need more time to digest. I think it needs to be carefully considered. Another option people overlook is auditing courses. A lot of places will let you come in and sit through the course for a reduced cost, and it’s a good way to find out whether you should take that class during the year.”

Senior Sam Costello, who took genetics at Tufts over the summer, agreed that if a GPA boost is your goal, Tufts’ Summer Session is not the greatest help. In his case, he took the class over the summer to avoid getting stuck with its usual professor, he said. But there are ways to get around the tough work altogether; several of his friends who wanted to get a credit out of the way without having to miss out on tanning hours simply staked out the “easiest” Tufts classes or took summer classes at other institutions and transferred their credits back to Tufts.

“A few friends of mine took English classes here and at U Mass−Boston, and in both cases it was pretty much a joke. There were only a couple assignments and they didn’t go to class too much. They just did it and got their credit for it,” Costello said. “Maybe that doesn’t happen as much at Tufts because you pay so much for it. But somewhere else, definitely.”

Carlson saw a lot of her friends doing the same.

“Orgo is a course where you want to be able to maximize your grade, and a lot of people are worried about their grade. People will take it at different schools in order to pad their GPA for medical school,” she said.

Proctor acknowledged this problem but also pointed out that for some students who need to take summer classes in order to catch up, completing additional courses at Tufts is not an option, logistically or financially. It remains an issue with which each department has to deal on a case−by−case basis. Other schools do sometimes offer courses that Tufts does not, but because it is generally difficult to determine the comparative level of courses, he prefers when students complete their summer courses on campus.

“What we offer at Tufts is a very strong academic program, and sometimes courses at other institutions do not offer the same experience. Usually, the Tufts experience is a better one for the student. They tend to be a little more rigorous, a little more demanding, than other institutions,” he said. “Then again, some students live on the other side of the country and can’t stay at Tufts. And there’s also the occasion where a university will offer a course that’s not in our repertoire. Depending on what college they take it at, then we’ll transfer that in,” he said.