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Summer Term helps students make academic, professional breakthroughs

May 20, 2016 By Dean Robbins
As the sun sets, UW students and members of the Madison community enjoy a cool summer evening at the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota.

As the sun sets, UW students and members of the Madison community enjoy a cool summer evening at the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota. Photo: Bryce Richter

While some students are happy to take a summer break, others want something more. They hope to make a summer breakthrough.

University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Summer Term is designed for such students. In sessions ranging from three to eight weeks, they can prepare for future careers, save money by graduating on time, and enjoy a unique summer experience in Madison.

As a freshman, Maria Novak was unclear about her academic and professional goals. She knew she couldn’t afford to spend more than four years completing her undergraduate degree, but she needed time to explore a variety of subject areas to determine what she liked. Summer Term gave her the breathing room she needed.

“I knew I could take advantage of Summer Term should I fall behind on a four-year track,” Novak says. “The timeframe seemed less rushed, and I felt more comfortable making course decisions.”

Although participating in Summer Term can save students money in the long run, many see the near-term cost as a barrier. That led UW–Madison officials to make available $250,000 in summer scholarships, up from $25,000 last year. The scholarships will help eligible students cover tuition and fees.

“I wouldn’t have been able to take summer courses without a scholarship,” says Erin Skalitzky, a life sciences communication student. “My family has been going through some financial hard times, so being selected for one of the scholarships meant a lot to me.”

 Making up ground

Taking more than four years for an undergraduate degree is costly, in terms of additional tuition and rent. Students can fall behind for many reasons, including semester-long study abroad programs or internships. Summer Term’s accelerated courses are a cost-effective way to make up ground.

“I was looking at all the courses I needed to take, and Summer Term seemed like a good way to keep myself on track for my degree,” says Sage Bladow, who’s pursuing a double major in chemical engineering and vocal performance.

Bladow took two classes the summer after her freshman year, Physics 202 and Music 151. They freed up her sophomore schedule so it wasn’t too overwhelming.

“Taking the physics lab class in the summer also allowed me to get a lab out of the way so I could use my afternoons to work in a research lab,” she says.

An opportunity to shine

With help from Summer Term, Novak explored her options and decided on a psychology major. At that point, she discovered another benefit of UW–Madison’s summer schedule: the chance to focus intently on one class at a time without having to worry about juggling a full load, as in fall or spring semesters.

“The opportunity to enroll in Summer Term courses has proven to be extremely beneficial and has allowed me to fulfill challenging degree requirements at my own pace, with my undivided attention,” Novak says.

Focusing on one course gives students an opportunity to shine. They can earn the grades and credits they need to get into a particular area of study, or to get into graduate school.

“Since I was only taking one class, rather than taking four or five, I could really focus,” says Grace Buting, a communication arts major. “I found that rewarding, because if I’d taken this class during the semester, I might have missed some parts that I really enjoyed. The fact that the class was four weeks helped me build my skills faster, so I found that a huge advantage for taking a summer course.”

Skalitzky discovered that taking classes during Summer Term allowed her to schedule more electives during her senior year.

“I took some public health classes that I would not have been able to fit in otherwise,” she says. “I just found out that I’m accepted into a few master’s programs in public health, so now I feel more prepared.”

For those thinking ahead to a career, UW–Madison has added more Summer Term courses that offer real-world training. For example, a service learning course provides art students with valuable experience in organizing community events. Anthropology students can take a field course in archeology, where they gain hands-on practice at a dig. And a political science course offers an internship program in Washington, D.C., where students can work in a legislative office.

Students can also take core courses that pave the way for a career, such as Introduction to Finance from the School of Business.

The experience of a lifetime

Aside from the practical benefits of Summer Term, spending the summer in Madison is an experience students never forget. They can enjoy music on the Terrace, recreational activities on the lakes, the Farmer’s Market on the Capitol Square, and many festivals around town.

After deciding on her psychology major, Novak worked hard during Summer Term. But she also had plenty of time to enjoy herself.

“Summer in Madison is unlike the busy semesters,” she says. “The Terrace was practically in my backyard, and the music scene is incredible. I wouldn’t have traded the opportunity to remain on campus for a different experience elsewhere.”

Logan Reigstad, who’s majoring in journalism, likes the intimate feel of UW–Madison in the summer.

“There was a different vibe on campus,” he says. “There were certainly still students around, but they were fewer and farther between, so it felt like I had more breathing room.”

Summer Term also provides a UW–Madison experience for college students enrolled in other schools. They can get required courses out of the way or take classes that aren’t available elsewhere, then transfer the credits to their primary institutions. Precollege programs are available, too.

For those who can’t be in Madison for the summer, or who can’t manage a face-to-face class with their work and vacation plans, Summer Term now includes more than 100 online courses.

“An online class is great, because you can take it from anywhere and fit it into any schedule,” says Bladow. “My schedule was different every week, and just being able to work on my coursework whenever I needed to was really important to me. It allowed me to be successful in my physics course while also working 30 hours a week.”

The Summer Term website has more information about courses, programs, fees, housing options, and summer jobs.