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Summer Session Provides Time for Work, Time for Play

Northwestern’s summer quarter allows students to earn up to a full year of credit in nine weeks

  • Students can catch up, graduate early, study abroad and more via Summer Session
  • Northwestern faculty teach more than 300 undergraduate, graduate classes during summer
  • Some students use Summer Session to retake classes to earn better grades

EVANSTON, Ill. --- During any of the three quarters of Northwestern University’s school year, students are juggling class, work, clubs and social life without much time to soak it all in. If only they had a “fourth quarter” in the academic year to take a breath and focus on just one or two things.

That’s where Summer Session comes in. 

Each summer, students can jam pack an entire year’s worth of biology, chemistry or a foreign language into just nine weeks. Other courses offered range from four to eight weeks in duration. Most Summer Session courses are equivalent to one regular school year quarter.

While the classes occur in a concentrated amount of time, they still provide the same curriculum covered in courses offered during the school year. The benefits of these intensive classes in the summer, however, range from earning credits ahead of studying abroad and catching up on classes that may have been missed the previous year to focusing on only one difficult subject without the demands of an entire class load.

“I just finished my sixth quarter on campus, and I think my summer quarter was by far the least stressful and the most fun I’ve had at Northwestern,” said Lauren Watchmaker, a sophomore pre-med biology major and dance minor who took nine weeks of physics last summer. “Even though we were moving at a really fast pace, it was so nice to only focus on one subject.”

Thanks to Summer Session physics, Watchmaker is now a full year ahead of most junior pre-med students, which sets her on a faster track to graduate and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

During a regular school year, Watchmaker’s focus is splintered between school, friends, being the president of the New Life Volunteering Society, performing with her improvisational dance troupe and serving as a Northwestern tour guide. But Summer Session allowed her to “check something off her list” early in her college career absent those social pressures, she said.

“Everyone’s having the same quarter as you and knows its kind of intense, so everyone respects that you’re doing your own thing, as opposed to the school year when you have a million things going on,” Watchmaker said. 

Getting ahead isn’t the only reason to register for Summer Session. Many students retake classes if they didn’t initially get the grade they wanted or will take a three- to eight-week Summer Session course if they want to study abroad for a quarter without worrying about missing an important core class. 

Summer Session is open to Northwestern undergraduate and graduate students as well as students from outside institutions. Juniors and seniors are the typical Summer Session participants, but Watchmaker encourages freshman to take advantage so they can reserve their sophomore and junior summers to get internships.

“It’s definitely hard to get a good-quality internship the summer after your freshman year just because you’re so young, and companies often give them to older people who are going into the workforce in the next couple years,” Watchmaker said.

And let’s face it, because Northwestern’s summers are luxuriously long, fitting in lots of hard work and fun is absolutely doable. Last summer, Watchmaker took a two-week family vacation to Europe, complete nine weeks of physics and still have a month of summer to call her own, which she said was perfect because she would have grown bored with more than that.

“You really can have it all,” Watchmaker said. “I’m a huge proponent of taking one intense class at a time. 

Registration runs through June 19 and classes start June 20. Learn more here

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