What Is Summer School? Guide for High School Students


When you think of how you want to spend your summer vacation, sitting in a classroom is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, summer school can be a great way for you to get ahead in high school and give yourself an advantage in college admissions.

These days students with all kinds of grades take summer classes. You might take summer school to understand a particular subject better, to free up more time in your schedule during the school year, or to take an advanced class at your high school, nearby college, or online.

Read this complete guide on summer school for high school students to learn everything you need to know about what summer school is, why people take it, and how you can use it to get ahead.


What Is Summer School?

You probably know that summer school refers to classes that students take during the summer, outside of the regular academic school year. However, more specifically, summer school for high school students can be a lot of different things: It can be a way for you to retake a class you found difficult, take specialized courses in areas that interest you, get a head-start on prerequisites and college classes, and more.

Summer school can be classes done through your high school, at a community college or local university, or through a program that includes classes, such as a summer camp.

Online summer school, where students take classes primarily on a computer at home, is becoming more popular. Many of these classes require students to visit the school once or twice to take exams or turn in final projects, but some classes are also offered completely online. Online classes may be offered through your high school, a college or university, or through a specialized online high school program.


Why Do Students Take Summer School?

As mentioned above, there are multiple reasons why a high school student would take classes over the summer. Below are three of the most common reasons.


Reason 1: To Improve Their Grades

Historically, the most common reason that people took summer school was that they needed to improve their grades in one or more classes.

There are still many students who take summer school for this reason, and many of them find it easier to earn better grades during the summer because summer school often has smaller classes, more one-on-one interaction with the teacher, and fewer distractions, such as other classes, school sports, or clubs to worry about.


Reason 2: To Take Specialized Classes

Sometimes, students will also take summer school classes in order to take a certain class they wouldn't be able to enroll in during the school year. This could be a class they don't have room in their schedule for or a specialized class, such as a course on a specific subject or an intensive foreign language course. Some schools also offer short certificate programs over the summer. These can cover a variety of topics, such as entrepreneurship, computer science, and more.

Sometimes schools offer classes during the summer that they don't normally offer during the school year. You will likely have an even wider variety of summer school class options if you look at classes at community colleges or online. Taking a specialized class can allow you to learn more about a topic you're interested in and help you gain new skills and knowledge.


Reason 3: To Prepare For College

Summer school can also help you get a head start on the rest of your education, including college.

Some students take summer school as a way to get prerequisites out of the way so that they can take more advanced classes during the school year. At my high school, every student was required to take a basic typing class before they graduated, and many students took this class over the summer because it wasn't very challenging and could be taken online. This gave us an extra space in our schedule to fill with an elective we wanted to take.

You can also take community college classes over the summer, which you may be able to get high school or college credit for. These classes can help you get more used to what college classes will be like so that you feel more prepared and confident once you start college. Having college classes, even introductory classes from a community college, will also strengthen your college applications because it will show schools that you can handle the rigor of a college course.




How Can You Do Well in Summer School?

Whatever the reason you're taking summer school classes, it's important that you do well in them. They're using up some of your important summer time, and you want to make sure you don't waste that time by doing poorly in the classes. Summer school classes are a bit different from classes taken during the school year, and there are a few strategies you can use to maximize your chances of success.


Tip 1: Take Fewer Classes at a Time

Unless you absolutely need to take multiple classes in order to graduate, it's a good idea to only take 1-2 classes at a time during summer school. Summer school classes are often shorter than regular classes (often 6-8 weeks long, compared to a whole semester), so they are usually more intensive and require a greater time commitment.

Taken fewer classes is especially important if you are retaking a particular class because you'll be able to be able to focus more of your time and energy on getting a higher grade this time around if you don't have other classes to worry about.


Tip 2: Create a Study Schedule

Taking summer classes can be hard. There are probably a lot of things you'd rather be doing like seeing your friends, being outside, playing sports, etc., and it can be easy to get distracted.

Either before or right after you start summer school, create a study schedule that lets you plan when you will put aside time to study and do homework. If you can set aside the same time every day, like 4:00-5:30pm every afternoon, that can make it easier to stick to your study schedule and plan other activities. Set goals for what you want to accomplish each day or week, whether it's a project you need to complete, papers to read, or just general studying and homework.

On the other hand, make sure you are giving yourself enough time to take a break and relax. Summer school can be demanding, and if you overtax yourself, you may end up burned out by the time the school year starts, which you don't want to do because it could cause your other grades to suffer. If you need help creating your study schedule, ask a parent or teacher for some guidance.


Tip 3: Ask For Help Early

Summer school classes are often smaller than regular classes, and this means you'll have more interaction with the teacher.

Use this to your advantage by asking for help early if something confuses you or doesn't make sense. Particularly if you are retaking a class you struggled in before, you want to make sure you don't repeat the same mistakes you did the first time. Teachers are happy to help students who ask, and they won't think any questions you ask are dumb, so don't be afraid to let them know you need something explained more or in a different way.

If you've already taken the class before and know which areas you struggled in, you may want to tell this to your teacher early on so they can prepare you for the topic better and possibly give you some additional material to look over to make sure you understand the subject.



Asking a teacher for extra help as soon as you don't understand the material can help you keep your grades up in summer school.


Should You Take Summer School?

If you're wondering whether or not to take summer school, ask yourself the following three questions. If any of the scenarios apply to you, then you may want to consider summer classes. For each scenario, the best way to take these summer classes is also mentioned so you can be sure you get the benefits you want out of summer school.


Question 1: Do You Want, or Need, to Improve Your Grades?

Is there an especially low grade on your transcript that you wish you could erase? If you did poorly in a certain class, summer school is a great way to redeem yourself and retake the class for (hopefully!) a better grade.

Even just one especially low grade, such as a D or F, can really bring down your GPA and hurt your chances of getting into competitive colleges. Even if the class shows up as a retake on your transcript, if you got a good grade in it the second time around, that will look much better than having a very low grade.

Best option: If this is the case for you, you will probably take your summer school classes through your high school in order to improve your grade in a particular class.


Question 2: Are There Specific Classes You're Interested in Taking?

Is there a class you'd like to take that is only offered in the summer or you don't have time to take during the school year? Summer school could be a way to fit it into your schedule. You could get creative here and take a class in photography, wilderness skills, a foreign language, or a different interest you have. Summer school doesn't have to be boring!

Best option: Depending on which classes you're interested in, you can take them through your high school, at a community college, at a summer program, or online. Talk to your academic adviser if you're not sure which classes to take and want to know what your options are. If you take classes at a place other than your high school, make sure you understand exactly if and how you will receive credit for them.


Question 3: Do You Want to Get Ahead on Classes?

Are you trying to get prerequisites out of the way or want to take advanced classes to improve your chances of getting into a competitive college? If so, taking summer classes can be a way for you to have more space in your schedule for other classes, strengthen your transcript, and be more prepared for college.

Best option: If you're trying to take some prerequisites over the summer, you'll probably take them through your high school because courses through other schools may not meet the prereq requirements. If you want to take classes to prepare you for college, you will likely take these at a community college or nearby university. You may also be able to take advanced summer classes through your high school.




Should You Do Online Summer School?

Online summer school for high school students is becoming more and more popular, and it's easy to see why. Online classes often allow you to do schoolwork on your own schedule and reduce the time and hassle of traveling to class. However, is online summer school a good idea for everyone?

Online classes can have several drawbacks including the following:

  • Less direct interaction with the instructor
  • Requires more self-motivation
  • Can be more challenging to understand

If you're trying to decide whether or not to take summer school online, you should talk to people who know your study habits, such as teachers and parents, to help make the best decision. However, in general, you shouldn't take online summer school classes if you struggle to motivate yourself to study and complete work on time, or if you struggled with the class before and want more guidance from and interaction with the instructor. Both of these issues can be exacerbated with online classes.

You should also base your decision on how difficult you expect the class to be. For a relatively easy class, you need to take as a basic graduation requirement, such as typing or health, online classes will likely cause you fewer problems than if you were taking a more challenging course. Because the class you're taking isn't that difficult, you'll be able to handle the issues that online classes can sometimes create, and you'll be able to easily get the class out of the way and focus on tougher classes during the school year.



  • There are many reasons for students take summer school, whether it's to improve their grades, take a certain class they couldn't take during the school year, or become more prepared for college.
  • Summer school can be taken through your high school, at a community or local college, or through a company or organization that offers summer classes. Most summer classes are in-person, but online classes are becoming more popular.
  • You don't want to waste your summer taking a class you end up not doing well in. In order to make sure you get good grades in summer school you should limit the number of classes you take, create a study schedule, and ask for help early on if you don't understand the material.
  • If you're not sure whether you should take summer school or you don't know what classes to take, talk to a teacher, parent, or academic adviser to figure out what the best option for you is.


What's Next?

Want to learn more about online high school? Check out our guide to online high school and learn if it's the right choice for you.

Is there a certain class you want to take, but it isn't offered by your school or doesn't fit into your schedule? You may be able to take an independent study! Read this guide for everything you need to know about independent study classes and how to take one yourself.

Trying to decide whether to take an AP class or a class at a community college? We go over the pros and cons of each to help you make the best decision.



Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
About the Author
author image
Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!