Every year, many postsecondary students have a difficult choice to make – whether to stay in "school mode" and take classes during summer sessions or earn money through a summer job. There's no right answer for every student, but there are compelling arguments for each option that students should consider.
Some students have little or no choice regarding the decision to take classes during summer sessions. Students who had difficulties throughout the year may find they need to take summer classes to maintain a GPA or pick up a credit that they have missed.
Summer courses can also offer a way to fulfill graduation requirements with a little less pain. Classes taken during the summer can free up the fall and spring schedules, letting a student be more active in campus activities, internships or other worthwhile pursuits outside of the classroom.
Last and by no means least, choosing to work a summer job may be not be guaranteed option. Unemployment in the 18-24 age group is considerably higher than the overall unemployment rate, and many employers are exploiting the tough job market by offering lower pay or no pay at all (for "internships"). Taking summer courses may be a good use of time if work options are limited.
The biggest advantage to a summer job is pretty straightforward – earning money. For many students, that's not even an option; going back to school in the fall is predicated on summer earnings.
Necessity isn't the only reason to pursue summer employment. Summer jobs or internships can provide invaluable experience, connections and résumé buffing – all of which can make the summer worker stand out as a better candidate for full-time employment after graduation. Not only can a successful internship make a candidate stand out, but many firms that offer internships actively look to fill new permanent positions with former interns.
Last and not least, is the benefit that a job offers in terms of recharging the mental batteries. Demanding academic programs can take a toll on the student and year-round schooling may not be mentally or emotionally sustainable. Jobs, then, offer a break from the routine and perhaps a chance to come back mentally refreshed.
How about both … or neither?
While "summer school versus summer job" is often presented as an either/or, there's no reason that the two cannot be combined. Many institutions offer evening classes during summer sessions, and while combining the two may undermine the notion of a "summer vacation," they can be combined so that a vacation is possible.
It's worth noting that some students may not have to do either. While it is becoming the norm for college students to work, not all have to and some students may have the luxury of having no particular responsibility to do anything during the summer. For those who have that luxury, I suppose it's a fair option to kick back and spend the summer however you wish, but those students may find that they pay a price later when interviewing for jobs and facing questions about how and why they spent their summers as they did.
The bottom line
Just as there's no "one size fits all" answer about how to select a school or major, there's no definitive answer about how best to spend the summers between terms. Summer school has a lot to offer in terms of easing the academic burden or boosting a GPA, but a summer job offers always-useful money and invaluable work experience. While some may find that they can handle doubling up and doing both, it's a decision that needs to be evaluated every summer and in consultation with parents, academic advisers, and potential employers.