Why Summer School Has Become a Status Symbol

Students vying for the top colleges are using extra classes to get a leg up on the competition.

So many people have asked me if my son is going to summer school that I’m starting to feel guilty that he’s not. I even feel I need to explain why, “Well, he would be going to summer school, but he is a counselor at sleepaway camp and I feel that is a valuable learning experience … blah, blah, blah.”

When did summer school go from being something kids only did if they were flunking out to a status thing? What would motivate high-performing kids to ditch the beach and schlep to class at 7:30 a.m.?

It’s tough to get into top schools. You can’t just be a really good student with high SAT or ACT scores anymore. The competition is fierce, and attending summer school is one strategy kids use to get an edge.

Top schools want more world language credits and lots of AP courses, especially in core classes. It is difficult to do that and fit in other required classes like health and gym, and electives as well. So kids take those classes in the summer to clear their schedule for the “serious” classes during the school year.

Another strategy is taking required classes, like algebra and geometry, in the summer to take higher level classes, like calculus and physics, during the school year. 

Many kids do go to summer school for less big-picture reasons, including poor grades. This is a lifesaver for many students because a certain number of core classes are required to graduate.

If graduation arrives before the credits are met, they don’t graduate and need to continue as a high school student until they do. This doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen and it’s not a happy place. One of my students had to attend the fall semester of high school after her senior year to meet her requirements for graduation.

The alternative is doubling up on classes during the school year instead of taking an elective, which is a terrible plan. If a kid didn’t pass biology the first time, he or she definitely won’t pass it the next year while taking chemistry as well. Summer school is a safely net for these kids. It allows them to make up a class without the added stress of taking a full schedule and be on even footing the following school year.

Taking summer classes also allows kids to concentrate on one subject, resulting in a less stressful schedule the following school year. The environment in summer school is often more laid-back with smaller class sizes and more teacher support. If math isn’t your thing, taking it in isolation from other classes over the summer is a great alternative. This has become a very popular trend over recent years.

When I asked some of my students why they are taking summer classes, several of them told me they figure the classes will be easier because most of the other kids will be there because they got bad grades. I didn’t mention the future Ivy Leaguers trying to beat the competition; they can find that out for themselves.

Now that I have researched all the reasons kids go to summer school, I feel like I should retrieve my kid at overnight camp and immediately enroll him in chemistry, even though I won’t. But you can bet my next article will be on the virtues and value of summer camp.

Rebecca Cormier July 02, 2012 at 09:58 PM
I've never heard of a town offering summer classes so a student doesn't "have" to take a course during the school year? That's strange. 7 days of instruction taking the place of 8 weeks? That doesn't make any sense at all. Sounds like a program for kids who failed and need to make up work.
Susan Schaefer July 02, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Tessa, I was not referring to kids taking health over the summer to lighten things up for the schoo for year or so they can have a study hall. I was referring to kids taking classes to give them a competative edge. I believe I said that I know kids are taking classes for less "big picture" reasons and that it can be a lifesaver for some kids. By the way, that makes sense to me too! Sue
Susan Schaefer July 02, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Rick, I wholeheartedly agree with you! It is very true kids are asked to learn skills far above their developmental level. This is truly a disadvantage for boys who develop later than girls by over a year. I also took away the the same line from Race to Nowhere, only I thought an inch deep was pushing it:-) Sue
Susan Schaefer July 02, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Yes, but how about kids that don't take AP classes? i know there are an abundance of kids thating them, thus diluting the meaning. But, there are many, many "B" kids that don't take them who would do well in college but are not considered due to the amout of AP students applying.
Susan Schaefer July 05, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Rick, I am reading Just Cate......is the teacher she mentioned you?


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