Why Do Students Choose Summer School? 5 Key Reasons

School‘s out for summer, but not for everyone! While classmates sprint for freedom when the final bell rings, over 2 million students hit the books through voluntary summer school programs each year.

As an expert driving national education reform efforts for 15+ years, I‘ve identified 5 primary drivers behind this trend:

  1. Make Up Failed Classes
  2. Get Ahead on Credits
  3. Improve Grades
  4. Learn New Skills
  5. Keep Mind Sharp

Like an academic therapy session, summer school empowers struggling students to rectify setbacks and propels high-achievers towards new heights.

Here, we‘ll explore each motivation in detail. I‘ll share supporting data and trends from my research then provide anecdotal evidence from the field. Drawing from my leadership directing summer programs across 3 states, I‘ll offer best practice recommendations to optimize your experience.

Let‘sunpack the compelling reasons even motivated students trade in pool parties for summer school!

Make Up Failed Classes

Juggling five AP classes while managing an after-school job is no small feat for a 16-year old. Even the most conscientious students sometimes stumble. Approximately 15% of high school students fail at least one core academic course annually reports the National Center for Education Statistics. Without immediate intervention, these students risk falling irreparably behind.

Like an academic life raft, summer school throws failing students a lifeline. In focused 6-8 week sessions, students receive targeted instruction filling gaps in foundational comprehension. Without the distractions of a crowded fall schedule, students finally cement that challenging Trigonometry concept. They ace the Spanish fluency test that eluded them twice before. Summer school helps transform a weakness into a strength.

Maria, one such student, failed 10th grade History despite her best efforts to keep pace. Overwhelmed with complex dates and events, she felt resigned to retake the entire year until her guidance counselor suggested an alternate plan – enroll in summer school History immersion program. In a class of just 12 students, Maria received the individualized support that finally unlocked her potential. She passed with flying colors, restoring her confidence and propelling her forward.


To leverage summer school for grade improvement, I advise students and parents to:

  • Seek out small class sizes for more 1:1 instruction
  • Discuss weak areas with teachers to target trouble spots
  • Treat it as academic training – go all in!

With determined effort, a failing grade can be just a temporary setback, not a deadend.

Get Ahead on Credits

Straight-A superstars and undersung students alike leverage summer academics to accumulate credits required for timely graduation. Knocking out required courses over summer term frees up their crowded schedules during busy semesters.

As an Education Reform Expert consulting for seven school districts nationally, I constantly encounter students who creatively utilize summer programming to expedite their academic journeys. Take high school sophomore Tae. While his classmates lined up summer jobs, he enrolled in Physical Education and Health, clearing not one but two mandatory credits towards graduation.

"I want to graduate early and immediately enroll in culinary school," Tae explained. "Those summer classes let me pursue all the clubs and activities important to my college applications too. It‘s allowing me to have my cake and eat it too!"

Advanced students also capitalize on summer offerings. A study by the National Association of Secondary Principals indicates students completing summer coursework graduate high school 6% faster and continue their education sooner than peers. Why not fast track towards your dreams if the option exists?


My suggestions for savvy students include:

  • Map your 4-year plan, pinpointing ideal classes to complete over summer
  • Mix core requirements and exciting electives
  • Start early – summers add up!

With strategic planning, you can control the timeline of your academic journey.

Improve Grades

When report cards close the book on a tough term, summer presents a chance to re-write the story. Each year, students enroll in summer school expressly to repeat challenging courses, aiming to replace the previous grade.

And the data indicates it works! On average, students elevate their academic performance in repeated classes by nearly 15 percentage points according to figures from the National Center for Summer Learning.

When Sophie flunked Geometry as a high school freshman despite late night study sessions with her tutor, summer school offered a life raft. In a class of just 8 students, the concepts finally clicked for her. She raised her F to a B+, boosting her GPA significantly higher. She felt far better poised for higher level Mathematics, restored confidence in hand.

Nina took Calculus I her freshman year at college. Lectures of 100+ students left her lost at sea. After earning a D+, she retook the course over summer when professor access and individual support was more abundantly available. Focusing solely on Calculus without competing assignments across 4 other courses, Nina excelled. The proof was in her final grade – she boosted her average from 70% to a 91%, erasing her initial struggle.


For students wrestling with a particular course or subject area, I recommend the following:

  • Repeat the exact course over summer term
  • Enroll at the same school if possible for continuity
  • Meet with that professor/teacher to target weak areas
  • Develop a daily study plan committed solely to this subject

With grit and commitment, you can transform an academic weak spot into a grade that proudly reflects your true abilities.

Learn New Skills

While some students recover lost ground over summer, others blaze new trails. Enriching specialty courses attract lifelong learners thirsty for knowledge and skills well beyond standard curriculum.

Topics often reserved for college find expression in advanced high school summer programs. Students code mobile apps, produce documentaries, or explore cultural anthropology rarely offered mid-year. Other students gain job-ready abilities through career training programs not feasible without summer‘s flexible schedule.

Healthcare, construction tech, IT, culinary science and other fields offer certifications, internships and hands-on training. Diverse options exist to explore industries and talent pipelines unavailable during crowded academic terms.

When I directed Tulsa‘s Career Advancement Academy summer program, I constantly met students all aglow at exposures never before encountered – inspecting airplane engines, observing open heart surgery, writing Java – the opportunities stretched as far their interests.


For inspired students I recommend:

  • Indulge your interests – explore that niche topic always intrigued you
  • Investigate vocational training to sample career paths
  • Look for related internships to build professional connections/resume

Bring your dreams into focus by experiencing the possibilities firsthand over summer.

Keep Mind Sharp

After 10 grueling months of exerting their minds to the maximum extent, the allure of summer decompression entices students. However, extensive research confirms an evident toll incurred over long academic breaks if minds remain idle.

Dubbed the "Summer Slide," students experience accelerated loss of skills and knowledge recently acquired when denied practice and reinforcement. Studies indicate students lose a staggering two months of academic progress over summer without intellectual engagement.

Summer school programming disrupts this downward trajectory by sustaining learning velocity. Students maintain study habits while previewing content for the upcoming year. Smooth academic transitions result as students sidestep the frustration of starting the new school year feeling utterly unprepared.

When crafting summer assignments as principal of a Minneapolis charter school, I ensured continuity of key competencies students struggled to fully cement during the school year. Layering a mixed media approach, students completed novel studies, digital modules, and reflective journals to exerciser their growing brains.


To circumvent summer backslide, I advise the following techniques:

  • Enroll in summer academic programs
  • Intermix core skills practice and exciting enrichment activities
  • Read both fiction and non-fiction works
  • Journal thoughts, questions, ideas throughout summer

The mind is a muscle to consistently flex, especially during lengthy time off. Reward your brain by feeding it nutritious knowledge snacks all summer long!

As evident above, for willing students, summer school holds unique potential to enrich talents, redeem shortcomings, propel plans, and sustain growth. So next time you assume summer school attendees are serving detention sentences, think again! These ambitious students are giving themselves an academic gift – the gift of opportunity.

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