Each summer, Tufts students and visitors enroll in summer session classes that occur for a number of weeks during the break between the two regular academic semesters. This year, the Tufts summer session included both virtual and in-person opportunities to study a selection of classes that may be offered during the academic year, as well as some special programs such as Access for Computer Equity.
For Tufts sophomore Nole Wade, the summer session presented a way to accelerate his Arabic language acquisition.
“I wanted to increase my proficiency as quickly as possible, and start working on the [Arabic] minor … in my sophomore year,” Wade said. “If I don't start working on my minor with Arabic now, it'd be a lot more difficult to work on it in my junior year when I'm trying to complete other studies.”
Wade added that his plan to study abroad factored into his decision to take an intensive summer Arabic course this summer.
“I also wanted to study abroad, as soon as possible, … I wanted to try and do it before junior year — maybe next summer. So I thought that building my proficiency would help a lot,” Wade said.
Mohammad Ahmadi, another sophomore, used this year’s summer session to unlock courses for the upcoming fall semester.
“It was not a matter of motivation, but because I'm an [economics] major, and [for] the courses that I was supposed to take for the fall semester, [Calculus] 1 was one of the prerequisites,” Ahmadi said.
David Denby is a distinguished senior lecturer in the philosophy department who has been teaching summer session courses since the mid-1990s. He noted how the composition and demographic of his summer students have changed over the years.
“There was a time when I had quite a few high school students. I think they have separate provision for them now … the basic makeup of the students apart from that is more or less the same. Most of them are Tufts students, perhaps two thirds, a third are from all over the place,” Denby said. “I do have more students now who are older, you know, people who work in administration, perhaps at Tufts, who are just doing a summer course, or people who have gone back to school later in life.”
Before committing to a summer session course, Wade had to evaluate his options on how to spend his limited time.
“I was kind of hesitant because … it was either I take a job or take a class online. And what kind of helped me make the decision was [speaking] to my mom. She was like, okay, well, if you like it, you should do it,” Wade said.
In the end, Wade signed up to take a virtual intensive course that combined the Arabic 3 and Arabic 4 language classes. His resulting schedule during the summer session was highly demanding, Wade explained.
“You're compressing two semesters into six weeks. So you're doing probably almost like a week of class every other day,” Wade said.
For six weeks, Wade was in class from Mondays to Fridays for about 5–6 hours at a time, including a break for lunch during which students could use to complete asynchronous work. This was followed by several hours of homework after each lesson.
On top of the rigor and intensity of summer courses, there are also unique logistical challenges to summer session classes, Ahmadi explained. In Calculus 1, Ahmadi encountered a last-minute change to his summer course timeline.
“[The class] was supposed to end on [Aug.] 18, but our professor even shortened it, and I think he ended it on Aug. 4, instead of [Aug.] 18,” Ahmadi said. “[The professor] made a bunch of excuses, like, [that] we cover everything in the class.”
“I feel really betrayed,” Ahmadi said with a laugh. However, he revealed that students who had taken the same course in the spring had access to an online resource that the summer session course did not provide.
“We had six to eight questions per [homework] assignment, and that [wasn’t] enough to really master that topic,” Ahmadi said.
This was especially challenging for students in the class who were learning calculus for the first time, Ahmadi added.
“I kind of realized that the professor is treating everyone [like they had] taken [calculus] before … and that was kind of annoying for me because I had not taken [calculus] before,” Ahmadi said.
Denby taught Logic and Introduction to Philosophy this summer. Overall, he acknowledged the inherent difficulty of the increased pace of summer session courses.
“I try to do exactly the same course in the summer as I did in the regular semester, because, you know, I don't want to shortchange anyone,” Denby said. “[The summer session] is enormously compressed. … Some of the topics we cover, it’s nice to have the students allow them to percolate for a couple of days, and that's just not available in the summer, you know. You’re right on to the next thing every day.”
The summer session is also not as accessible or equitable for all Tufts students. Ahmadi, a first-generation and low-income student hailing from Afghanistan, detailed many obstacles he faced to take summer courses.
“I'm an FGLI student and … the courses here are really expensive compared to other colleges, … especially the courses that you [take] for a letter grade. … Here at Tufts, you have to pay like around $4,000 for a course,” Ahmadi said. “For an FGLI student, that's a lot of money. And you kind of have to take everything from everywhere, you know, to pay for the class. And because I was an international student there wasn't any … financial [aid] or anything for that class.”
Ahmadi continued, “I know that domestic students receive a lot of funding for summer courses if they are an FGLI student. But for international students, it's not like that. You don't get funding for classes, even if that class is required for your major or if [it’s] a prerequisite for other courses.”
In addition to Calculus 1, Ahmadi took a one-credit course titled Sociology 99, which was considered part of an internship he was doing simultaneously.
“For us international students, we have to go through a lot to work off campus. So … the administrative process was very long, … but everybody was really supportive in the International Center, my professor was really supportive. So I didn't run into any serious problems,” Ahmadi said. “I think there is a policy that if an international student on financial aid takes a course for internship and if it's less than two [semester-hour units] … the financial aid office pays for it.”
Students might also enroll in the Tufts summer session for other reasons. Denby noted that many students like to “slip in an extra course or two” in the summer “if they want to graduate early” or when they’ve fallen behind on their coursework.
Considering that students’ circumstances are more variable during the summer, Denby pointed out that greater flexibility is required on the part of the course teacher.
“There are unique challenges … to deal with [such as] fitting it in with work they might have, or they might be away, or … it turns out to be more time consuming than they imagined,” Denby said. “So I am much more lax in allowing for things like incompletes … I try to make ad hoc adjustments.”
Denby also highlighted some of the advantages of summer sessions, citing a smaller average class size as an example.
“Very often, not always, but often, the [summer] classes are smaller. And I think they find that that helps them as well: you get more discussion going sometimes … So there are some advantages but generally speaking, the feedback’s good from the students,” Denby said.
While Ahmadi shared his positive view on summer courses as a way to continue learning in general, he still thinks that the cost of summer courses at Tufts is a hindrance.
“Taking the summer course is definitely a good choice; … you're not away from academics [during the summer] … but I wouldn’t recommend [taking] it here necessarily at Tufts because it's really expensive compared to other colleges,” Ahmadi said.
Echoing Ahmadi’s sentiment, Wade advised to carefully weigh the pros and cons of taking a summer course, in light of other time commitments and considerations over the summer.
“It's important that you kind of weigh [taking a summer course] … with other potential experiences that you might miss out on,” Wade said.
It’s safe to say that members of the Tufts student body continue to seek knowledge and growth in all sorts of ways outside the fall and spring semesters. Some choose to do it through the Tufts summer session, which tends to offer smaller, more flexible and more age-diverse classes; however, this is not a possibility that is open to all.